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March 29, 2013

MPH Student Interviews Global Health Leader

Global Health Week had an early and memorable jump-start for Sasraku Amanor-Boadu when he interviewed Nils Daulaire, MD, MPH ’78, in advance of a keynote speech here by the Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs to mark Global Health Day on April 3.

“It was a great opportunity and a real privilege to meet Dr. Daulaire, and ask him questions which interest me as a student, and as a human being,” says Amanor-Boadu, vice president of the African Public Health Network, a Bloomberg School student group.

What impresses him most about Daulaire, he adds, are the decades he spent in the field: “He’s been everywhere, concentrating on pediatrics and maternal health, tackling areas of great need.”

A native of Ghana, Amanor-Boadu is a physician whose medical training took place in Nigeria. When he finishes up an MPH concentration in Social and Behavioral Sciences in Public Health, he plans to pursue further training in the mental health field with a residency in psychiatry.

“I’m passionate about mental health,” he says. “My favorite [MPH] course has been Psychiatric Issues in Developing Countries.”

Here are highlights of the discussion between Amanor-Boadu and Daulaire:

What intervention do you think will yield the greatest health improvement in Africa?

Ultimately, health development in Africa will rest on the shoulders of Africans themselves. Those of us who seek to help must do so by working with and through African health providers—in training, partnering with, and supporting paraprofessionals, community health workers, nurses and doctors, and assuring that they have the needed skills and the necessary institutional support to manage their enormous challenges.

What are the potential constraints in implementing this intervention, and how would you overcome them?

The potential downside of efforts aimed at improving health service capacity is that we will focus too much on the top of the pyramid—the physicians and specialists—and not enough on the vital base of the health service pyramid—those health workers from and closest to their communities. We will need to focus on assuring that these are the people with the necessary skills and training, and that they are part of a system aimed relentlessly at having the greatest possible impact on the largest numbers of people.

Given the huge socioeconomic burden of treating mental health disorders, what is your take on this from a global health perspective?

You correctly highlight the enormous burden of mental health issues on people living in conditions of poverty around the world. We need to focus first on those conditions—like uncomplicated depression—that are amenable to relatively straightforward treatment at low cost. As their societies become more affluent, countries will then be able to build more holistic and robust mental health programs.

On a more personal note, which of your experiences would you consider closest to your heart?

My five years spent in Nepal, and decade spent working with programs there, remain deeply embedded in my heart. The people, the culture, the challenges, and the rewards of working there are among the high points of my career in global health.

What key pieces of advice do you consider to be the most important for future public health professionals?

My best advice to emerging professionals in this discipline is to get out to the field as early as possible, spend significant time—years, not merely months—working through a set of challenges and getting to understand the constraints our host country colleagues must deal with every day, and then try to modify the drivers of those constraints, be they political, social or technical.