Department of Public Administration and Policy, School of Public Affairs, American University, Washington, DC, USA
Global health networks, webs of individuals and organizations with a shared concern for a particular condition, have proliferated over the past quarter century. They differ in their effectiveness, a factor that may help explain why resource allocations vary across health conditions and do not correspond closely with disease burden. Drawing on findings from recently concluded studies of eight global health networks—addressing alcohol harm, early childhood development (ECD), maternal mortality, neonatal mortality, pneumonia, surgically-treatable conditions, tobacco use, and tuberculosis—I identify four challenges that networks face in generating attention and resources for the conditions that concern them. The first is problem definition: generating consensus on what the problem is and how it should be addressed. The second is positioning: portraying the issue in ways that inspire external audiences to act. The third is coalition-building: forging alliances with these external actors, particularly ones outside the health sector. The fourth is governance: establishing institutions to facilitate collective action. Research indicates that global health networks that effectively tackle these challenges are more likely to garner support to address the conditions that concern them. In addition to the effectiveness of networks, I also consider their legitimacy, identifying reasons both to affirm and to question their right to exert power.
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