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INTERVIEW-What happens when architects join doctors to solve global health problems?

by Astrid Zweynert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 11 April 2018 16:40 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Barbara Pierce Bush, daughter of former U.S. president George W. Bush and co-founder of Global Health Corps, smiles while taking part in the first day of the Clinton Global Initiative 2012 (CGI) in New York September 23, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Burton

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A medical degree is not needed but a drive to create health systems that work for all people

By Astrid Zweynert

OXFORD, England, April 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In Rwanda, a team of young architects join doctors and nurses to design a solution to help reduce the spread of tuberculosis, while in the United States a communications expert works with a charity supporting drug users.

They are fellows of the Global Health Corps, a U.S.-based charity aiming to mobilise a network of young leaders motivated by the belief that health is a human right, according to co-founder and former U.S. first daughter Barbara Pierce Bush.

A medical degree is not needed but a drive to create health systems that work for all people, no matter where they are or whether they are rich or poor, she said.

It was a trip to Uganda in 2003 with her father, former U.S. President George W. Bush, at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, that opened her eyes to what it means to be poor when you need life-saving medicines.

She saw how AIDS had ravaged the country and how poor people struggled to get access to medicines that were easily available to patients in the United States and other developed countries.

"I was maddened by that ... I couldn't believe that it was the 21st century and we were living in a world where we have the tools to keep people alive and yet, if you were poor, you couldn't get access," said 36-year-old Bush.

Bush graduated from Yale University with a degree in humanities but her heart was set on finding a different model to Western-designed, top-down responses to health problems that rarely take into account the perspectives of those being served.

After working in global health for a few years, including a job in a children's hospital in South Africa, she brainstormed with friends which led to the Global Health Corps in 2009.

"Our intervention is to (have) great leaders who ... are building systems to ensure that everybody, no matter where they live, have access to the information, drugs and care they need to life a full life," Bush told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Bush cited an example in Rwanda where a team of architects from the GHC worked with doctors and local authorities on changing the way air flowed through hospitals and health clinics, so that tuberculosis (TB) patients would be less likely to infect others.

The solutions was design-led, not simply medical, said Bush, highlighting how a holistic approach drawing in people from different professional backgrounds can bring results - in this case, it helped reduce the spread of TB.

GHC recruits from a diverse pool of young professionals aged under 30, including architects, communications professionals, engineers and data specialists. About half are from Africa.

During the 13-month programme, fellows are placed with non-profits, government agencies and local health care providers. Two fellows work in a pair, one from the host country and one from abroad to promote cross-cultural collaboration.

Almost 900 fellows from around 40 countries have completed the programme in countries including Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and also in the United States.

About 60 percent of GHC's fellows are female compared to the 80 percent male leadership in global health, said Bush.

"We are thrilled that we have such great female representation," she said on Wednesday when she was awarded the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship at a ceremony in Oxford, one of six winners this year.

After a fellowship, 95 percent of GHC alumnni continue to work in global health or related fields and more than 80 percent of alumni hold mid- or senior-level positions.

(Reporting by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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