The Global Community Behind Global Health

By Alison Herman

At the end of May, my 30-hour trip across the Atlantic ended at the Roberts International Airport in the middle of the night. Descending the staircase onto the airfield, I felt Monrovia’s balmy air begin to exacerbate my travel-induced exhaustion. Making my way past the camouflage-clad airport employees, I spotted the driver holding a “Partners in Health” sign.

Over the next 60 days, I would meet various coworkers, including a few Haitian doctors, a Nigerian doctor, a Rwandan biomedical engineer, and numerous Liberian colleagues working in finance, human resources, and medical capacities.

Inside the nurses’ station at a drug-resistant tuberculosis ward.

My primary task as the Health Policy Intern for Partners in Health (PIH) Liberia was to conduct an annual review of all PIH operations, clinical and nonclinical, in the country. To evaluate the clinical programs, I traveled to Harper, a small coastal town in southeast Liberia and the center of PIH clinical operations. Boarding the one-propeller plane, I took note of the various—and, oftentimes, divergent—paths that brought us all to the same airfield at 7 AM on a Friday morning. A German pilot, a Haitian medical director, a Rwandan engineer, a Liberian university student, and an American intern all walked up the same small, unstable staircase onto the aircraft. It sounds like the setup for an overtold joke, but it seemed more like global health at work.

Prior to my visit to Liberia, I did not think too much about the global nature of global health. Partners in Health drew human resources from its programs in Haiti, Rwanda, and Malawi to pioneer a program in Liberia that would benefit from the collective knowledge of past global health successes and shortcomings. This amalgamation of work experience across the world, when combined with the knowledge and wisdom of Liberian colleagues, brought fresh insight to the Liberian context.

A Liberian nurse kneels to assess a child’s edema, one of three evaluations for malnutrition.

Global health that is global in its composition makes sense. Although not uniform by any means, the different health systems would face analogous hardships throughout their strengthening processes. While I cannot be sure that all global health is practiced this way, I hope many sites embrace the approach.

Prior to my visit to Liberia, I did not think too much about the global nature of global health.

The notion that you do not have to leave your home country to have a global experience of health care impressed me. The Liberian university student with whom I partnered got the same exposure to Haitian culture and the Rwandan medical system as I did. This realization propels me to search for those opportunities in the U.S. that offer a similar diversity of experience yet unity of drive to achieve better health outcomes for more people.

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