Abt Associates: Bold thinkers driving real-world impact
Benedict Harris is a partner of the Abt Associates-led Health Systems 20/20, USAID’s flagship project for strengthening health systems worldwide. Harris recently was appointed Liberia’s Assistant Minister of Planning, Research & Development. He supervises the Division of Policy & Health Financing and five program units in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
Harris also has worked with a local NGO developing emergency assistance plans for communities impacted by civil war in his home country of Liberia. Mr. Harris has been working with Health Systems 20/20 since 2008.
We sat down with Harris to discuss Liberia’s most pressing health issues.
Health Systems 20/20: How did you get involved working in health?
BH: I joined the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW) in January 2008 as the first Health Financing Secretariat Coordinator within the Department of Planning, Research and Development. My supervisor was the then-Deputy Minister for Health and Social Welfare, S. Tornorlah Varpilah. He has mentored and guided me in my professional path.
Health Systems 20/20: What do you think are the most important health issues in Liberia?
BH: The issues are enormous. In Liberia, controlling out-of-pocket health care expenditures, engaging the private sector, and producing and retaining health workers are some of the most important issues. We also need data to verify utilization of health services.
Health Systems 20/20: What do you hope to accomplish as the Assistant Minister for Planning, Research & Development?
BH: I will oversee implementation of operational plans for each of the five program units. I plan to mobilize financial and technical assistance to strengthen these teams and build the staff’s capacity to meet national targets set by the National Health & Social Welfare Policy and Plan. Simultaneously we will continue to engage our development partners as we strive to move the health sector forward.
Health Systems 20/20: Tell us about your specific goals for one of the units.
BH: In the past, the Human Resources for Health Unit worked heavily with training institutions but the planning component was dormant. What I intend to do is to make sure that human resource planning is prioritized. The rationale being, in the absence of human resource planning the MOHSW has no evidence to inform decisions on health worker production and allocation. There must be a comprehensive analysis examining the human resources for health need and the actual health workforce supply.
Health Systems 20/20: Tell us about your experience working with Health Systems 20/20.
BH: Health Systems 20/20 has backed the MOHSW’s drive for evidence-based planning and budgeting. They provided the health financing data required to move the sector ahead for the next 10 years and beyond. Health Systems 20/20 also worked with the MOHSW to develop the first National Health & Social Welfare Financing Policy of the country — not to mention a number of studies that informed policy decisions. This has created a paradigm shift within the sector.
Personally, working with Health Systems 20/20 has exposed me to global health financing issues and built my capacity to consider issues of equity, efficiency, and effectiveness in the health system. I’ve developed skills in management, technical report writing, strategic planning, and budgeting. As a result, I feel I’m better able to make positive recommendations and work more innovatively.
Abt Associates is a mission-driven, global leader in research, evaluation and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development. Known for its rigorous approach to solving complex challenges, Abt Associates is regularly ranked as one of the top 20 global research firms and one of the top 40 international development innovators. The company has multiple offices in the U.S. and program offices in more than 40 countries.