From Harvard to Haiti:
Health as a Human Right
Ronda Stryker has seen firsthand how extreme poverty, unsanitary conditions, and a debilitated health care system have left millions of people vulnerable to infectious and chronic diseases. After spending several days in Haiti with Paul Farmer MD ’90, PhD ’90, Kolokotrones University Professor and chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS), she began to see opportunities to help make things better.
Stryker and her husband, William Johnston, have pledged $20 million to advance the work of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, the largest gift in the department’s history, supporting faculty and students in the classroom and on the ground in Haiti and other resource-poor countries around the world. Stryker believes her gift will go a long way toward preventing what Farmer calls “stupid deaths” from diseases for which safe, effective, and affordable treatments exist.
“It comes down to kindness to humanity. If Harvard Medical School can teach and train others to replicate the work Paul Farmer and his team do every day, the world will be better for it,” says Stryker, a member of the HMS Board of Fellows and the Advisory Council on Global Health and Service. “I believe that, in my lifetime, we can create a movement and affect real change in billions of people’s lives around the world, particularly women and children who often bear the brunt of the lack of access to health care.”
Ultimately an investment in people, the gift establishes a new professorship in global health, provides research support and professional learning activities for junior faculty and postdoctoral fellows studying diseases such as HIV and Ebola, and creates fellowships in the Master of Medical Sciences in Global Health Delivery (MMSc-GHD) program and the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change. The gift also expands the capacity of the Global Health Research Core to conduct research on pressing health issues such as the impact of the Zika virus on birth outcomes in affected pregnant women.
Farmer says the couple’s generosity will be “truly transformational”—not only solidifying the department’s foundation of collaborative research, care delivery, and education for global health equity, but also providing crucial flexibility to respond to the needs of the communities it serves. “We are tremendously grateful to Ronda and Bill for their friendship, foresight, and partnership,” he says.
“This remarkable gift will strengthen the ability of HMS researchers and practitioners to improve the health of the world’s poor while simultaneously supporting the next generation of leaders who will transform health care across the globe,” says George Higginson Professor of Physiology and Medicine Jeffrey S. Flier, MD, who recently stepped down as dean of HMS to return to the faculty. “Ronda’s passion for and commitment to health equity, social justice, and the empowerment of women is truly inspiring. HMS and the world have benefited greatly from those values.”
Stryker credits her family for instilling those values, particularly her grandfather Homer Stryker, an orthopedic surgeon and inventor who often provided free health care to those who could not afford it. “My grandfather was very aware of health care not getting to people who were poor,” says Stryker, who is a director of Stryker Corporation, the medical technology company her grandfather founded more than 70 years ago. “He was a pay-it-forward kind of person and taught us the same thing.”
Following her grandfather’s example, she is now paying it forward in a big way, helping Harvard to deliver on the promise of global health equity.
The centerpiece of HMS's innovative MMSc-GHD program is a field-based thesis project that sends students out into the world to conduct research that will improve health care delivery in the communities where they work.
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