William & Mary and University of Ghana Study shows measurable contribution to the health well-being and impact on a child’s community

A parent whose child is born with a heart defect isn’t thinking about economic impact as they seek care for their newborn. At World Pediatric Project (WPP), we heal critically ill children and build healthcare capacity around the world because we passionately believe it’s the right thing to do. However, as a learning organization, we want to invest limited resources smartly to achieve the greatest possible impact. 

Likewise, we partner with impact-minded individuals who want to know their philanthropic dollars are making a difference. Private philanthropy – and effective use of private contributions – is even more important as COVID-19 changes the global landscape. While we are able to tell our partners individual stories about the lives that are changed each year as a result of WPP surgical interventions, there is a relative dearth of empirical evidence on the cost-effectiveness of this work (i.e., whether or not our work provides value for the investment). That’s why we partnered with researchers at William & Mary’s Ignite Lab and at the University of Ghana to conduct a rigorous evaluation of our work in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Using 18 years of WPP data from St. Vincent, the research team found that our work was directly responsible for approximately 6,000 years of additional healthy life on the island. This is an important finding for WPP because it provides a metric to describe the capacity of our program model. It brings greater context to what it means to, for example, correct a child’s vision through surgery – that beyond the immediate result of vision saved for that one child, there is a measurable contribution to the health well-being and impact on that child’s entire community.

Using 18 years of WPP data from St. Vincent, the research team found that our work was directly responsible for approximately 6,000 years of additional healthy life on the island. 

We were also encouraged to learn that our interventions are highly cost-effective, using established guidelines. Previous research has shown the economic impact of surgical interventions in developing countries; this study is unique because it focuses on six specific groups of pediatric surgical interventions, providing cost-effectiveness data for each. 

“Having engaged in a formal evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of one of our longest-standing programs with results that show a strong value returned for the resources invested, we believe this study and its results will resonate with our supporters for what their investment has and can continue to accomplish for children,” said Emily Robertson, WPP’s Director of Program Impact. “Beyond the importance of the study for our team, these conclusions illustrate that the strategy of visiting short-term medical teams can yield great benefit in a cost-effective way, something that is questioned in literature for how effective the strategy truly is in addressing the lack of access to adequate surgical care globally.”

Strategies vary for conducting short-term medical missions. From WPP’s perspective, the program model we’ve developed to execute short-term surgical teams is key to the results. This study reflects what a model built on partnership, consistency, and long-term commitment will yield. WPP’s approach to executing short-term surgical missions in St. Vincent – and in all of our partner countries – juxtaposes the description “short-term” because our overall approach is anything but short. WPP’s model of sending short-term teams is rooted in depth and longevity. WPP has carefully formed partnerships in St. Vincent that have developed and grown over almost two decades.

We partner with medical volunteers in the U.S. who will travel year after year, at the same time of year, to the same place, to see the same population of children. We emphasize both reaching new children in need and following up with the children we already know, with data collection as a key component of every visiting team’s work. A developed referral system in the country helps WPP physicians prepare to treat children before they have even arrived. We send teams in 13 different pediatric subspecialties annually to St. Vincent to help address gaps in the country’s pediatric care system, a truly comprehensive response to the needs expressed by our partners. WPP teams may spend only a week in country at a time, but WPP’s program model actually ensures a constant presence in St. Vincent that is working day in and day out to significantly impact a major complex health problem.

As we look ahead to the future, WPP will continue to apply rigor to our investment choices and program delivery model. We value our partners’ trust and want to continue learning, developing, and course-correcting where possible. “While we can easily identify the outcome of our work on individual lives, we know there are questions about our model’s impact on a larger scale,” Robertson said. “When the opportunity came to work with the Ignite Lab to take a look at the economic impact of one of our most established programs, we jumped at the chance. We very quickly found our common ground – we want to tackle the tough questions that help us know how to do this work better. This pilot study has been an excellent learning opportunity that we can build off of for future investigations. It has reaffirmed our commitment to prove the quality of our work, to show our outcomes in meaningful ways, and effectively contribute to the global discussion of disparities in surgical access.” 

Dr. Carrie Dolan, Director of the Ignite Research Lab at William & Mary’s Global Research Institute, reflected on the value of the work. “Providing surgical services in low resource settings through short-term surgical missions are a well-established method of providing specialized services to underserved populations,” she said. “However, there is little evidence of the impact or cost-effectiveness of these services, especially for children. This research closes an important evidence gap by showing the work of WPP represents good value for the investment. As WPP is developing a comprehensive evaluation strategy, this work can provide evidence supporting their ability to implement pediatric surgical interventions throughout the Caribbean while also advocating for increased investments by the global community into such missions, especially to deprived areas.”

Thank you, Rebecca Latourell, Assistant Director of Programs at W&M’s Global Research Institute, for collaborating with WPP for this piece.