Program in Global Public Policy and Social Change
Vanessa Bradford Kerry, MD, MSc, Program Director
Since the principal aim of medicine is to combat illness and alleviate suffering, medicine is not traditionally considered an agent of global public policy. Yet health care is in fact an underutilized tool to address the economic, social, and cultural disparities that define poor health in many regions. Poor health, in turn, fuels social vulnerabilities and discord, as illness decreases individual and community productivity and disrupts family and social structures. The broad consensus that improvements in population health can reduce poverty and contribute to long-term economic growth and development offers some hope. Interventions for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), tuberculosis, and vaccine-preventable illnesses, for example, have all improved economies and demonstrated that, just as disease transcends borders and can adversely affect regional economies, sound investments in health promotion can have a positive effect. The challenges are significant: currently, one-third of the world’s population lives on less than two dollars a day; six million children die before the age of five from preventable causes, including infectious diseases, malnutrition, and violence; chronic conditions such as coronary disease and malignancies contribute increasingly to global mortality; and at the same time, the world is falling behind on meeting all of the Millennium Development Goals. To address these challenges and the complex interplay of health, poverty, education, governance, and environment, the field of medicine must become a partner to global public policy, global health care policy, and foreign policy.
The Program in Global Health Policy and Social Change aims to embrace this complex intersection and help develop the needed partnerships among the fields of global health, public policy, and diplomacy. The Program works collaboratively across departments and institutions and engages undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and key policymakers in discourse to provide innovative solutions to global public policy problems.
The goal of the Program in Global Health Policy and Social Change is to improve public and social policies related to global health care and thereby also improve policies for development, eradication of poverty, education, good governance, and a safe environment. The objectives of the Program’s comprehensive approach include:
- Enhancing the role of academic medicine to inform global health policy through research and publication, in order to improve population and individual health in resource-poor settings.
- Providing opportunities to explore global health policy through education, research, and training, including:
- Multidisciplinary training for medical students, residents, and fellows that promotes translation of successful programs in the field into policy discussions and social change.
- Outlining and examining the challenges political decisions pose to global health—including policies for trade, economics, allocation and delivery of foreign aid, conflict and war, technology, foreign relations, environment, and agriculture—and offering solutions and recommendations for improving these decisions and policies.
- Providing evidence-based advocacy in public policy that affects international health, including publications, symposia, participation in conferences, and direct discussion with key policymakers.
Featured InitiativesGlobal Health Diplomacy
This project reflects the emerging understanding of the critical intersection between global health and foreign and political relations. It thus seeks to better understand the impacts of political decisions and by-products of political decisions on health, and inversely, the power of health to promote development. It explores, for example, the effects of conflict, trade, foreign aid, population health, migration, and the absence of borders for epidemics.International Health Service Corps
This initiative aims to harness the rising interest in global health among medical professionals to help create the equivalent of a Marshall Plan for health. We envision this program as an International Health Service Corps, through which health care workers post-training would invest in medical-service and capacity-building partnerships overseas in exchange for training scholarships and student loan forgiveness. The program trains and funds both local providers and US health care professionals to work, teach, learn, and enhance the health care workforce and infrastructure in low-income countries.Federal Funding for International Health Training
Currently, the increasing numbers of formal global health training programs are reliant on discretionary funds and/or private philanthropy. The Program is working to create designated federal funding to train and support residents and fellows in global health delivery; this training is needed to help address current human resource challenges at the leadership level in partner countries, as well as to train highly skilled medical professionals, from the United States and abroad, capable of responding to the full range of urgent global health challenges.Intergovernmental Partnerships for Health
Foreign aid has traditionally been provided in patriarchal models or with constrictions that limit its effectiveness. Equally, development projects have often been isolated from similar efforts in recipient countries. Understanding and promoting new models for aid delivery, capacity building, and development that enhance national sovereignty and growth are essential.Environmental Rights for Individual and Population Health
In partnership with key faculty and researchers in environmental health, this project focuses on research and advocacy for the critical environmental issues that directly impact human health, cross borders, and both affect and are affected by politics. Such issues include agriculture, food security, water rights, new and emerging vector-borne diseases, and pollution, among others.Academic Medical Centers as Leaders in Global Health Policy and Advocacy
Defined by its research, evidenced-based decision process, and excellence in health care delivery, academic medicine is well-situated to develop strong, innovative partnerships with nongovernmental organizations and governments for capacity building and educational efforts in partner sites abroad. These strengths and traditions of academic medicine can help reshape the growing, inefficient, and costly reliance of governments and ministries on outsourcing to private contractors for building capacity and health care delivery.
The success of the Program in Global Health Policy and Social Change is possible only through collaboration with other institutions and departments. Current affiliations include Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, Massachusetts General Hospital, Partners In Health, and several departments within Harvard Medical School. The Program seeks a deep partnership within Harvard University as well, including, among others, the Harvard Institute for Global Health, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard School of Public Health.