This story was originally published by Global Health Now
It was January of 1925, and Nome’s children were dying. Diphtheria had struck the Alaskan town, but the curative serum the local doctor needed was in Nenana, nearly 700 miles away.
Sub-zero temperatures meant that shipping the serum by air was not an option, so the governor turned to sled dog teams, which had delivered mail on that route. Over 5 and 1/2 days, 20 mush teams and their human drivers set up a relay and delivered the lifesaving medicine, a trek known as the “Great Race of Mercy”—now commemorated every year in an event called the Iditarod.
The moral: Get help when you need it, no matter how unorthodox.
We need to employ that strategy in global health development by integrating private sector organizations into our health system solutions more often. They operate where governments cannot and are a rich source of flexibility and innovation. When a country’s government is frozen by conflict, natural disasters, financial crisis, or another crippling event, its health care system is all too likely to follow. Health workers flee or fall victim themselves, and hospitals run out of medicine and go dark. Others must step in to fill the void.