Stronger Health Systems are Coming

April 18th, 2019 | Viewpoint


It seems like almost everyone has some sort of opinion on Game of Thrones: half of the population watches every episode obsessively, and the other half is sick of hearing about it. Regardless of your opinion of the show, it can’t be denied that it’s at the heart of popular culture today.


For those who don’t know Jon Snow (now revealed to be Aegon Targaryen, Sixth of his Name, Protector of the Realm), he is a major character in the Game of Thrones world. He was declared King of the North, is a skilled sword fighter, and aims to destroy an army of the undead that penetrated a 700-foot-thick wall made of ice.

Jon Snow, Game of Thrones

Our company name, John Snow, Inc. (JSI), originates from a different John Snow – the father of modern epidemiology. Like Jon Snow, Dr. John Snow is a hero who stepped up in a time of need. In 1854, Dr. John Snow saved London from a cholera epidemic by tracing the disease through the water supply back to a central well. After he famously removed the well’s hand pump, the outbreak almost immediately trickled to a stop. (And Dr. Snow has received his own current fame in the PBS series, The Crown.) He pioneered the study of disease mapping epidemiology, paving the way for modern advances in public health. Two hundred years later, these techniques remain the foundation for JSI’s work in the U.S. and around the world to strengthen health systems and public health.

Public Health & Westeros

As this last season of Game of Thrones is here, a few of us avid GOT fans at JSI can’t stop thinking about the connections and differences between our public health world and the fantasy world in the show.

Westeros is made up of seven kingdoms ruled by seven families (or great houses) and inhabited by numerous smaller groups. In the current, the impending war will be a prominent theme, with the great houses battling each other for the Iron Throne. The houses will stop at nothing to gain the power that they desire and rule over the whole of Westeros.

How then, does this relate to public health? Our field is made up of so many different actors, from governments to local organizations, each with knowledge in a different technical expertise. Some specialize in noncommunicable diseases or social and behavior change, whereas others are focused on immunization or maternal and child health. Each technical area juggles for domination over the field of public health, whether it’s for funding, public attention, or opportunities. If this were Westeros, each technical area would be a kingdom, fighting for control and viewing the world through their lens only.

The role of JSI, much like our John Snow, who brought together multiple perspectives such as disease mapping, behavioral communication, politics, and medicine, is to break down the long existing divisions between the actors. We aim to create a world where technical areas aren’t isolated, and instead come together and use their strength to result in better health systems and outcomes for all. So, are stronger health systems truly coming? On Game of Thrones, Jon Snow does everything in his power to form alliances, leverage partnerships, and maximize everyone’s skills in order to have the resources to do battle against a common threat. At JSI, we take a similar approach. By taking a collaborative approach, JSI has strengthened health systems and improved access to life-saving commodities and services in more than 100 countries. We rely on local expertise, governments, and communities who bring their own technical expertise and unique perspective to come up with well-rounded solutions to improve people’s access to high-quality health services. With our collaborative and synergized approach to all the work that we do, both in the U.S. and internationally, stronger health systems are coming.

Stronger Health Systems Are Coming, John Snow, Inc.

Written by Maalana Hislop

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