Mission

The Programs in Global Health and Social Change promote excellence and equity in global health care delivery through leadership and innovation in research and education.

Background

The Programs in Global Health and Social Change launched in 2010 with the vision that scientific knowledge generated at Harvard Medical School will transform the health care delivery capacity for patients and communities, not just within the reach of Boston or of the United States, but also around the globe, for the people in greatest need. Recent innovations in health and communications technologies offer a foundation and unprecedented opportunities for enhancing the capacity of all nations for equitable, excellent health care delivery.

Achievements over several decades in reducing the transmission and lethality of infectious diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis and AIDS have galvanized both political will and a scientific focus toward extending these relative successes to non-communicable diseases—for example, diabetes, hypertension, and certain cancers—which increasingly contribute to the burden of disease in low- and middle-income regions of the world. Because capacity building for health care delivery in one disease domain typically also strengthens the capacity of a health care system overall, there is room for optimism and action.

Even at this potentially transformative moment, however, substantive social and scientific challenges to extending the global capability for excellent and equitable care delivery remain. In particular, entrenched social adversities related to disparities in access to education and health care, often linked with food insecurity, long-standing poverty, political conflict and displacement, and social disruption in the wake of globalizing commerce and economic pressures will demand fresh, trans-disciplinary approaches to implement scalable therapeutic and preventive strategies in diverse and complex social contexts.

Organizational structure

Under the leadership of Dr. Paul Farmer, five programs with clinical foci corresponding to major unmet burdens of disease in resource poor settings have been developed: infectious disease, non-communicable disease, mental health, surgery and neonatal health. These programs are modeled after the prototype Program in Infectious Disease and Social Change, which Dr. Farmer established in the Department in 1997. Researchers in each of these programs pursue  initiatives that integrate the social sciences, clinical specialties, and expertise in health care delivery, with the goal of advancing an empirical base relevant to care delivery for biosocially complex diseases and settings within and across their respective clinical domains. The programs also support graduate and postgraduate medical education and faculty development in the field of global health care delivery and health equity, both in the U.S. and in local field sites globally.

Nested within the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, the Programs draw upon faculty expertise in anthropology, bioethics, economics, epidemiology and the history of science to implement and evaluate novel strategies for health care delivery that are locally feasible and acceptable, effective and equitable, and that can be brought to optimal scale across diverse social contexts. The Programs' scholarly resources and partnerships with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of Global Health Equity and the nongovernmental organization Partners In Health form the foundation of their capacity to address biosocially complex diseases in settings characterized by poverty, structural violence, and other social adversities. The Programs promote the essential continuity and powerful synergy between a leading research university and a department with expertise in clinical specialty, social science, and global health delivery on one hand and the broad-based, large-scale capacity for implementation and delivery of care of a clinical effector arm on the other.