Through the stories and insights shared during the Nov. 25 Global Health Summit, attendees were transported to war-torn Somalia, the mountains of Rwanda and back home again.
Hosted by BWH, Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), the Global Health Summit, a BluePrint-themed event, provided a thought-provoking inside look at the important work being done in the global health arena. Special guests and BWH, HMS and HSPH leaders and staff came together in the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center at HMS to learn lessons straight from the field from expert physicians, patients and donors during three panels.
They heard Andrew Ellner, MD, MSc, of BWH’s Division of Global Health Equity, demonstrate the need for an overhaul of the American health care system and Michael VanRooyen, MD, MPH, FACEP, of BWH’s Department of Emergency Medicine, share his personal insights into training the next generation of humanitarian workers.
Attendees listened intently as BWH associate physician Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, posed an interesting question about a health care cost conundrum: “How is it safe to fly a 30-year-old plane but not use a 6-year-old CT scanner?”
“What makes global health work successful is partnership,” said BWH President Betsy Nabel, MD, who provided an introduction and closing for the event’s keynote panel. “The ability to connect and work together is essential.”
In one panel, BWH surgeon Robert Riviello, MD, MPH, of the Division of Trauma, Burns and Surgical Critical Care, shared his inspiration for getting involved in global health work: his Christian faith and growing up reading stories of saints and missionaries.
“That dedication, resilience and effectiveness struck me as, ‘This is ‘good with a capital G’ work. Work you would want to spend your life doing,'” he said.
Joining Riviello on the panel was philanthropist and former BWH patient Dan Ponton, who spoke about his partnership with Riviello to build much-needed housing for doctors in Rwanda. Ponton, who was successfully treated at BWH for a life-threatening brain tumor, saw how the housing shortage made it difficult to attract and retain qualified medical staff. His foundation, the Daniel E. Ponton Fund at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, subsequently funded and built the Butaro Doctors’ Housing project in Rwanda.
During the panel, Ponton shared the inspiring message that “it doesn’t always take a doctor to solve a health care problem.”
In the event’s final panel, WBUR “Here & Now” co-host Robin Young spoke with global health luminaries Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, and Nawal Nour, MD, MPH, in what resembled a personal living room conversation among friends.
After providing introductions of each other, the three panelists answered Young’s thoughtful questions, sharing everything from their inspirations to formative moments in their lives and careers, including Farmer’s admission that working in Haiti was his “Plan B.” Plan A was working in West Africa.
Nour discussed her work with the African Women’s Health Center at BWH, which she founded in 1999, and the nuances and complexities of the beliefs held by her patients, many of whom have experienced female genital cutting.
Of the media’s flashing interest and coverage of women’s and children’s health issues, Nour said: “If we could sustain that interest and funding, we could make changes systematically. If more people looked at health issues through a gender-based lens, we could make great improvements.”
Gawande, a self-described “professional dilettante,” or dabbler, said that he has always been interested in change and why it seems so hard. He sees his research, writing and directing of the new Ariadne Labs as ways to “work through the puzzles and try to solve problems.”
He summed up the spirit of BWH by saying: “If you’re not leading by making a difference, then you’re not fulfilling the mission of this place.”