Global Health Day 2016
Community health is where it’s at, according to accomplished alum Miriam K. Were.
A physician-educator who serves on the Global Health Workforce Alliance and as chancellor of Moi University in Kenya, Miriam Were, MBChB, DrPH ’82, MPH ’76, has received numerous international awards for improving maternal and child health through community-based primary health care. She will share insight about careers in global health on Global Health Day, Thursday, April 7, at noon in Sommer Hall.
International Health student Onaopemipo Abiodun offers this preview Q&A with Were in advance of her visit.
What has surprised you during your career in community health?
I didn't expect that while working with the people, they would be healing me! I had expected that I would be establishing systems for them to get better health. But I realized that they know the answers sometimes much better than I do.
While working with communities, I sit with them and we solve problems together—and in that sense they have healed me a lot.
How do we establish sustainable health systems in developing countries?
My take is that if we make the community level the foundation of health systems, we shall then have a sustainable health care system. You can't improve health by focusing [solely] on health facilities. That is where people go to get cured once they are sick.
To reduce disease burden, we need to be in the community preventing disease, promoting health and addressing first-line curative services. We need to ensure that communities are part of the decision-making.
It is through discussion and respectful dialogue that communities change their mindset and adopt new norms. Once you have a new community norm, things will change in a sustainable way.
How did your time at the Bloomberg School influence your work in global health?
Before Hopkins, I’d heard of people like Carl Taylor and D.A. Henderson, and thought of them as demigods. When I came here, I found that they are just human beings, just people who have focused on an idea. I learnt that I can also focus on an idea and get it going.
Another thing is to look at every idea with respect. I used to tell people that I was interested in working with communities, and they would tell me simply that my interest was not academic enough. I told them I didn't want to be academic—I wanted to solve a problem.
But when I told Dr. Carl Taylor that I want to look at people’s participation in their own health care, he was so excited. So I learnt to respect ideas by my ideas being respected. I have therefore also respected the ideas of my students and my colleagues, which has strengthened me.
What advice do you have for Bloomberg School students?
First of all, they should appreciate that they have a good opportunity because Johns Hopkins is a very good resource. They should take nothing for granted.
They should also read some of the things that people who are at Hopkins have written. Then they can appreciate their work, knowing that they can do the same and that, in the next few years, [they] will take over from the older generation.
And finally, I can say that increasingly we are living in a global village. Students should realize that whether they end up working at the community, the sub-national, the national or the global level, we all link up together to solve health problems.
Keynote Speech: Opportunities for Service and Careers in the Current Global Health Setting
Time: Noon - 1:30 p.m.
Location: Sommer Hall