Dr. Vanessa Kerry’s Talk on Strengthening Professional Health Education for Global Change

Photo Credit: Shiyang Yi / BUNS

By Shiyang Yi

Boston University News Service

Dr. Vanessa Kerry discussed the connections between global health and national security, community development and economic growth at a Nov. 3 hybrid event hosted by the Center for Innovation in Social Work & Health (CISWH) of Boston University’s School of Social Work.

During the hour-long event, Dr. Kerry, a practicing physician and the CEO of Seed Global Health, introduced a people-centered model for educating medical staff in low-resource countries to advance economic and community development and global health.

“We are sending teachers and faculty to these places to live for a minimum of a year, to build the trust to build a rapport to understand the context to be able to deliver an intervention that is not just about being delivering a curriculum at the classroom, but it’s about clinical bedside mentorship,” said Dr. Kerry, “Showing people time how you adjust the knowledge that we have  and how you demonstrate that knowledge in real-time to actually transform care for a patient.”

According to data collected by Development Assistance for Global Health, the healthcare workforce received only 7% of the statutory funding for global health aid over time, even though these workers have the potential to impact a wide range of diseases. By sharing that the world lost more than 180,000 healthcare workers during the pandemic, Dr. Kerry indicated that Covid rendered the lack of investment in the healthcare workforce even more apparent.

“The 180,000 loss may not seem like a big number compared to the numbers that we lost. But that is actually about its billions. It’s in the hundreds of billions of dollars of lost training, income and retraining. And this is already coupled to the fact that we are already facing a global shortage of healthcare workforce of 18 million alone,” said Dr. Kerry.

Dr. Kerry added that people have to look beyond just Covid and also think about the link to what it means to be responsive to the health crisis in a post-pandemic world, such as the continuing battle against HIV, TB, malaria and reducing maternal mortality. “There’s still disproportionately high around the world,” said Dr. Kerry.

According to Dr. Kerry, Seed Global Health collaborators for the governments in Sub-Saharan Africa have a high priority on addressing the market failure of the human workforce and aiming to partner honorably with a timeline of 10 to 15 years. 

“We partner with governments with a viewpoint that we are in service to their priorities, to bring the services at scale to the populations that are most in need. And to think very carefully about how we can achieve this scale over the long term,” said Dr. Kerry.

After Dr. Kerry’s presentation, Margaret Lombe— the Associate Professor of the Boston University School of Social Work and Director of the BU School of Social Work Bridge Program—asked how healthcare social workers can address the underlying causes of health inequality and focus their efforts on combating unfair global policy. In response, Dr. Kerry said she keeps advocating for that and hoping more social workers could realize their power to improve society.

“Social workers, I would argue, don’t have a lot of power necessary in the hierarchy of the medical system,” said Dr. Kerry, “Recognize you have immense power…so we’re going to be a team effort. But you are an advocate for our voices. And you’re critically important, and I think, very, very apropos.”

Ellie Zambrano, the director of CISWH, emphasized the goal of CISWH at the end of the event —  “To provoke thought and stimulate action consistent with our mission to improve health outcomes, population health, health equity, social justice, and expand the impact of social work and health.”

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