An international collaboration helps advance the speech-language pathology and audiology professions.
Strong partnerships complement strengths and mitigate weaknesses. Even better, though, successful alliances create benefits for external stakeholders as well.
Such is the case with the partnership between the American Speech- Language-Hearing Association and the World Health Organization. Working specifically with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a regional office of WHO that works to improve living and health standards for countries in the Americas, ASHA and its members are providing technical assistance to expand, and in some cases create, professional pathways for speech-language pathologists and audiologists outside the United States.
“In many countries, especially in developing countries, these professions just don’t exist,” says Lily Waterston, ASHA director of international programs. “The WHO Global Disability Action Plan provides a strategy for addressing a wide range of disabilities. Now ASHA, through its partnership with PAHO, is helping WHO to implement this strategy for speech-language pathology and audiology in Latin America.”
Specifically, the partnership works to strengthen the knowledge and capacity of professionals and organizations that address speech, language, swallowing, and hearing communication disorders in the Americas. The ASHA/PAHO partnership is currently working in El Salvador, Guyana, and Honduras, with plans to expand into Cuba, Ecuador, and Paraguay.
In Honduras, for example, ASHA members, volunteers, and experts have been working with local officials and experts to create a university-level degree in speech-language pathology and audiology—a program the country’s national university is calling phono-audiology.
“For the first time, the university is going to create a cadre of professionals in speech pathology and audiology from within the country that provides a sustainable program for service delivery,” Waterston says.
The work in Guyana and El Salvador is different. Every country has unique needs and goals, Waterston says, but with the help of some of ASHA’s more than 180,000 members and their technical expertise, all three countries are making strides in advancing the speech-language and audiology professions.
The partnership has provided an added benefit for ASHA members, many of whom are interested in volunteering and working abroad, whether for personal or professional reasons. And for ASHA, due to its work with PAHO, the association is now considered a nongovernmental organization by WHO. So ASHA representatives can sit in on PAHO meetings, as well as WHO meetings in Geneva, and they can comment and make recommendations on agenda issues related to communication disorders.
“The partnership is great because we are combining strengths from ASHA and from PAHO,” Waterston says. “By effectively complementing each other, we are making a greater contribution to the health of people in these countries.”