At a recent fundraiser in New York City for Seed Global Health, Vanessa Kerry, daughter of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, rubbed elbows with the city’s social elite, including actress Drew Barrymore, to pitch the cause she’s been working for over the last three years.
Seed Global Health is the organization that Kerry founded to strengthen health education in countries facing severe shortages in healthcare workers and gaps in patient care. A physician herself, Kerry spoke about the need for better healthcare in poor countries.
“I started Seed Global Health because I grew up having the opportunity to see the intense poverty in certain parts of the world, and the two standards of care that exist,” said Vanessa Kerry, according to an article in Forbes. “I realized that something needed to change; there had to be a way to provide better health care in a sustainable way in countries that are resource constrained.”
The organization sends U.S.-trained doctors and nurses to other countries to teach native heath care workers how to deliver better care.
Since 2013, SGHs Global Health Service Partnership program has built and helped run clinical skills labs, organized nursing leadership conferences, developed curricula for a Masters of Nursing degree program, and led pathology tutorials.
Through a partnership with the Peace Corps, SGH has been able to send 100 volunteers to Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi with plans to extend its work to two more countries within the next year. “Eventually, there will be a vast network of health professionals in these countries that will not only be able to provide outstanding care, but to continue teaching,” Kerry said. “This is a solution to improving the health of the world.”
For doctors in Malawi, where SGH has partnered with the country’s only medical school, this work has been especially crucial. The country currently has 1,440 healthcare workers for every 100,000 citizens falling short of the World Health Organization’s recommended ratio of 2,500:100,000. For nearly 6.5 million impoverished Malawians, care is inaccessible.
By partnering with the University of Malawi College of Medicine, SGH is hoping to cultivate a new generation of excellently trained health care providers to fill this gap. They have developed scholarship programs for local students, provided relief to overburdened faculty members, invested in educational resources, and created teaching protocols.
While these investments have provided desperately needed relief, the government of Malawi is also struggling with the problem of medical students leaving after graduation. In 2002, over 59 percent of doctors born and educated in Malawi were working abroad – drawn to countries where they can earn up to ten times what they would make in Malawi.
In response, the government has been executing a health sector plan to retain doctors. Housing benefits and salary increases are being offered to doctors with certain specialties and who agree to work in hard-to-staff areas. The government has also explored requiring emigrating doctors to reimburse education costs.
The strategy has helped considerably to stymie the flow of doctors. The number of professional health care workers in Malawi increased by 53 percent between 2004 and 2010. And, the Malawi Health Equity Network reports that the number of nurses in the country is nearing 10,000.
Last summer Seed Global Health announced a new class of volunteers, “an outstanding group of physicians and nurses from across the United States, representing 10 medical and nursing specialties, and ranging in age from 26 to 74 years old.”
“Over the next year, these GHSP Volunteers will be working alongside local colleagues at 13 institutions and 16 sites in Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda,” the organization’s website states. “They will help build on the legacy of the first two years during which volunteers train over 2,500 students and faculty annually.”