Dean Julio Frenk with South African Deputy President the Hon. Kgalema Motlanthe at the launch of the program in Pretoria in November 2011.

Dean Julio Frenk with South African Deputy President the Hon. Kgalema Motlanthe at the launch of the program in Pretoria in November 2011.

Ministerial Leadership in Health Program launches

November 22, 2011 — Dean Julio Frenk, together with South African Deputy President the Hon. Kgalema Motlanthe, launched the new Ministerial Leadership in Health Program at a high-profile event in Pretoria, South Africa, on November 4, 2011, attended by current and former ministers of health and cabinet-level officials from more than 20 countries. The Program is a joint initiative of HSPH and the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), in collaboration with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and will recognize and promote transformational leadership in health at the ministerial level with the aim of strengthening health systems, improving service delivery, and health outcomes in developing and emerging economies.

Health is one of the most politically and technically challenging government portfolios because ministers of health not only have to be advocates for national investment in health, but also are responsible for ensuring access to public health services and improving health outcomes, as well as for managing a large public health workforce. Because ministers of health are not always skilled and experienced enough to assume these responsibilities, they often only stay in the position a short time—average tenure is less than three years—undermining the need for sustained leadership in order to ensure successful health systems improvement.

The new Program aims to help ministers of health become more effective. Each year in June, approximately 10–15 health ministers will be invited to participate in an intensive roundtable forum at HKS designed to facilitate shared experiential learning and to promote fresh perspectives on problem analysis and priority setting based on first-hand experience from countries with an established track record in successful health systems reform. The initial Cambridge-based component of the Program will be followed by a further series of workshops and technical support customized to the specific needs of participating countries facilitated by HSPH and HKS faculty.

In his remarks to the inaugural meeting of the distinguished Program Advisory Board, South African Deputy President Motlanthe said, “Harvard has recognized a special need in the effort to strengthen health delivery globally and Harvard by virtue of its prestige and special expertise is uniquely positioned to make an enduring contribution to improved health.”

The Program Advisory Board is chaired by Dean Frenk and includes Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood. The joint vice chairs are Lord Nigel Crisp, former UK health secretary, and Joy Phumaphi, former minister of health of Botswana.

In his remarks to the Advisory Board’s inaugural meeting, Dean Frenk, a former minister of health in Mexico, said, “Being minister of health was sometimes a lonely job because unlike ministers of finance, for example, there are few opportunities designed specifically to support ministers of health. The Harvard program will provide an opportunity for ministers to tap international experience and develop closer networks with their peers across the world.”

The first cohort of health ministers is expected at the Kennedy School in June 2012.

For further information, please contact Michael Sinclair, executive director of the Ministerial Leadership Program for Health and director of global programs, at msinclair@hsph.harvard.edu or (617) 432-1859.

photo: Oscar Gutierrez