Seeding Global Health

Public-private partnership helps build sustainable health systems in resource limited settings

In Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda this summer, 30 U.S. doctors and nurse practitioners began one-year assignments as medical or nursing educators. They are working alongside local doctors and nurses to help train each country’s next generation of health care professionals in areas where the need is most urgent.

The volunteers, including specialists in obstetrics and gynecology, anesthesiology and family medicine, are the first class of the Peace Corps Global Health Service Partnership.

The partnership—a collaboration of the Peace Corps, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the non-profit Seed Global Health—presents an opportunity for American physicians and nurses to make a significant difference in communities abroad by helping to address the known shortage of skilled physicians, nurses and clinical faculty in resource-limited countries.

This innovative, public-private partnership represents the first organized effort by the Peace Corps to send U.S. healthcare professionals abroad with a focus on teaching and expanding clinical capacity, organizers said. 

Vanessa Kerry. Image: Seed Global Health

“We’re proud to be in this partnership that is sending an outstanding group of doctors and nurses abroad to help build a pipeline of medical professionals in the countries that need them most,” said Vanessa Kerry, chief executive officer of Seed Global Health and an HMS instructor in medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and in global health and social medicine.  Kerry is also associate director for partnerships and global initiatives at the Mass General Center for Global Health, Seed Global Health's flagship academic partner.

“This effort will help ensure that more well-trained doctors and nurses will be walking the wards and caring for patients in hospitals and clinics in Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda for years to come,” she said.

“These volunteers will soon depart for a ground-breaking adventure—an opportunity to make a real difference in communities abroad while enhancing their own skills,” said Peace Corps Deputy Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet. “The Global Health Service Partnership is an exciting continuation of the Peace Corps’ commitment to global health.”

Sub-Saharan Africa has the greatest shortage of physicians and nurses, according to the partnership. The region has 24 percent of the global burden of disease, but only 3 percent of the world’s health workforce. While the United States has 280 physicians and 980 nurses for every 100,000 people, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, like Tanzania, have just one physician and 24 nurses for every 100,000 people.  

“Whether these volunteers serve in Tanzania, Malawi or Uganda, their work will help strengthen the capacity of health professionals and the capacity of health systems,” said Ambassador Eric Goosby, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. “Their contributions will help position partner countries to more effectively, efficiently, and sustainably address some of their greatest health challenges, including HIV/AIDS.”

Members of the inaugural group of Global Health Service Partnership volunteers were sworn in at the White House in July. They come from diverse backgrounds, with clinical experience extending from a few years to decades of service. The doctors and nurses range in age from 26 to 70, include seven returning Peace Corps volunteers. They have collectively worked in more than 32 developing countries throughout the world.

Fifty-two years ago, U.S. President John F. Kennedy hosted a ceremony at the White House to swear in the first-ever class of Peace Corps Volunteers. While honoring that legacy, the Peace Corps said it is advancing its mission by inaugurating the first volunteers of the Global Health Service Partnership program, one of several new and innovative Peace Corps initiatives that expand service opportunities and use 21st century tools to meet development goals.

Applications are now open for physicians, nurses and educators for the 2014 class of global health volunteers.

Adapted from a Peace Corps news release.