Five Years of FACE: The Task Force’s Unique Focus on Compassion and Ethics

The Task Force for Global Health co-founder, Dr. William H. Foege, called for public health practitioners to ‘see the faces’ of the people behind the population health data. The Task Force’s Focus Area for Compassion and Ethics (FACE) works to elevate the importance of compassion and ethics in day-to-day global health practice. Compassion can inspire and sustain our work; ethics helps us understand what to do and how to do it. 

“Our training in public health typically focuses on the ‘how’ of our profession—how to calculate disease rates or control an epidemic,” says Dr. Patrick O’Carroll, President and CEO of The Task Force for Global Health. “The FACE program helps us refocus on why we do our work, reminding us that it is compassion that motivates our efforts to relieve the suffering of those with preventable or treatable diseases.”

As The Task Force for Global Health celebrates 40 years of global health impact, the FACE program celebrates its first five years. FACE grew out of a desire at The Task Force to understand and promote the role of compassion and ethics in global health practice, both internally and externally.

Thanks to generous investment and support by The Task Force and external funders, what started as an internal initiative in 2019 quickly expanded into an externally-facing program that strives to raise awareness, generate evidence, and build capacity and support for compassion and ethics in global health. FACE’s collaborative projects enable The Task Force to positively influence the broader field of global health by helping to advance our understanding and operationalization of compassion and ethics as central pillars of public health programs, health organizations, and health systems.

Advancing Ethics

Together with partners, FACE has advanced a global initiative to ensure the safety of mass drug administration (MDA) for the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), which reaches 1 billion people each year. FACE’s advocacy and research in this area led to the development of the World Health Organization (WHO) guidance, Safety in administering medicines for neglected tropical diseases. Recognizing areas in need of deeper ethical reflection in global health, such as what it means to ‘do no harm,’ and bringing together the right stakeholders to develop solutions, is part of FACE’s mission. The program is now exploring opportunities to advance thinking on how to protect and respect the autonomy of individuals and communities who participate in MDA.

Repositioning Compassion in Global Health

FACE and the WHO developed a model for compassion and primary healthcare that identifies how compassion drives each of the 14 core strategic levers of the WHO-UNICEF Operational Framework for Primary Healthcare. This project grew out of three years of collaboration with Dr. Shams Syed, Head of Policy and Partnerships at WHO’s Special Programme on Primary Health Care, on the Global Health Compassion Rounds, which sparked discussion on the essential role of compassion in global health. FACE has further influenced the field of global health in its work with the University of Edinburgh to reposition compassion as integral to understanding and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Nurturing Compassion

FACE recognizes that to reposition and advance compassion in global health, much can be learned from health service delivery organizations in the Global South. In 2022, FACE interviewed and documented a series of insights about how compassionate organizations alleviate suffering and promote flourishing in healthcare settings around the globe. In 2023, FACE partnered with two community health organizations in East Africa to apply the principles of human-centered design to develop, test, and rapidly iterate interventions to strengthen a compassionate organizational culture and improve well-being among staff. FACE has also supported the use of tools and measures for compassion to support health organizations in developing and evaluating compassion programs in their organizations.

With diverse projects and partners around the world, the FACE team reflects on its first five years, the global community of practice it continues to build, and the program’s commitment to centering the people in global health—including the global health workforce—to alleviate suffering and foster human flourishing. We look forward to the year ahead and thank our partners for their commitment to advancing compassionate and ethical action in global health.

The FACE team expresses deep gratitude to our funders for advancing this important work, including Templeton World Charity Foundation, IZUMI Foundation, the US CDC, WHO, PAHO, Fetzer Institute, the Center for Compassionate Leadership, the Hilton Prize Coalition, and RTI. 

Header Image Photo Credit: Brent Stirton/Getty Images for the International Trachoma Initiative.

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