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Celebrating three decades of global health leadership and announcing our next director

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This past summer, my wife Robin and I made the long trip back to Eldoret, Kenya. There — a five-hour drive from Nairobi and a world away from Indianapolis — I found myself re-reading a sign I first encountered several years ago.

Outside the Riley Mother and Baby Hospital — which delivers more than 12,000 babies a year and has the only public neonatal intensive care unit in all of western Kenya — the plaque proclaims that the building was “constructed through assistance of the people of the state of Indiana, USA, championed by Indiana University School of Medicine.”

In reality, our mission in Kenya goes far beyond building hospitals. For three decades, IU School of Medicine faculty have partnered with Kenyan colleagues to build a comprehensive and sustainable health care system that is saving and enriching lives.

Today, the AMPATH program that was born from this collaboration serves a region of 8 million people. It provides care for more than 150,000 patients with HIV and AIDS, opened a cancer and chronic disease center, launched micro-lending and food security programs, and engaged more than 2,200 medical students and other learners from North America and Kenya in educational exchanges. Our partnership accomplishes all of this in a nation where many people live on the equivalent of a few U.S. dollars a day.

But those statistics can’t begin to convey what IU School of Medicine and AMPATH have helped make possible.

Changing Lives

During our visit, we met a woman who was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, a leading cause of death in a nation where cancer care is scarce. Thanks to AMPATH, she was able to receive treatment. Five years later, she is alive and well.

We heard from a village elder about how Kenya’s national health insurance, which AMPATH is helping to implement, made medical care possible for a family member after a serious motorcycle accident. He encouraged everyone in his remote village to sign up for insurance using wireless, solar-powered tablets.

We drove several hours over bumpy, often unpaved roads to a remote village that is home to one of AMPATH’s 800 clinics. There, outside a modest home, community health workers educated women about pregnancy and the importance of prenatal care.

Our Next Global Health Leader

As we mark the 30th anniversary of our collaboration in Kenya, it is an appropriate time to celebrate stories like these and to consider how we can continue to apply what we have learned to improve health both abroad and at home.

And as we begin our next decade of international leadership, it is also a fitting time to announce that Adrian Gardner, MD, MPH, will serve as the next director of our Center for Global Health, which leads AMPATH and is a hub of global health activities across IU. Adrian succeeds Robert Einterz, MD, one of the founders of AMPATH and a champion of global health who is retiring from IU School of Medicine this month.

Adrian first became involved in AMPATH as a medical student and has lived in Kenya with his family full-time since becoming AMPATH’s executive field director in 2012. I encourage you to read more about him and the experience he brings to this new role. I am confident he will build on the extraordinary work started by Bob, Joe Mamlin, MD, and so many others who have supported our global health programs – including our many generous donors.

Adrian Gardner, MD, MPH (left), in Kenya

Global Health as a Priority

Global health must continue to be a priority for IU School of Medicine. Looking ahead, we will partner with other institutions to expand the AMPATH model beyond Kenya.

As physicians, our responsibility to improve health does not end when we cross the borders of our state or country. But beyond that, global engagement is good policy. As IU School of Medicine alumnus and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has said, any disease is only “a day’s plane ride away.” It’s in our best interest to ensure other countries are equipped to manage the next Ebola outbreak or other health crisis.

Finally, we have much to learn from our participation in global health. Certainly, our students, residents and faculty are personally changed by the experience – I know I have been. But we also learn how to better deliver care in resource-constrained communities, and it’s our job to apply those lessons back home. Our WeCare program for pregnant mothers is a great example of that. It relies on the use of community health workers to reach people where they live, a model that has been highly successful in Kenya.

AMPATH’s motto is “Leading with Care.” That’s a calling and a challenge we proudly embrace.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Jay L. Hess, MD, PhD, MHSA

Executive Vice President for University Clinical Affairs

Jay L. Hess MD, PhD, MHSA became Dean of the School of Medicine and Executive Vice President for University Clinical Affairs at Indiana University in September 2013. Read his full bio.