University News

Health is a global right, says Kim ’82

By
Features Editor

Physician and public health leader Jim Yong Kim ’82 discussed global health’s future — and his own as the recently elected president of Dartmouth — in Andrews Dining Hall Tuesday afternoon, stressing the importance of broad-based health solutions over tackling diseases one-by-one.

Students and faculty filled the room for Kim’s first public lecture since his appointment last month as the first Asian American to lead an Ivy League school.
Kim said he graduated from Brown believing in the power of individuals to change the world.

“There’s no question that Brown University made me think that anything was possible,” Kim said. “I hope to provide the undergraduates of Dartmouth College with the same inspiration I found here.”

His lecture, “Global Health and Human Rights: A Time for Change,” focused on health care and its delivery in developing countries.

“It’s so important that we took on HIV, TB and malaria,” said Kim, one of the world’s experts on tuberculosis and former director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS initiative.

But Kim emphasized the importance of improving health care systems instead of focusing on a single disease or condition.

“It’s my personal belief that every human being on the face of the earth deserves access to health care,” Kim said.

The physician and medical anthropologist currently serves as chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and as the director of the Francois Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights.

On Tuesday, Kim discussed his work with Partners in Health, the non-profit organization he co-founded in 1987 with Paul Farmer — now an internationally known physician, anthropologist and public health leader — while the two were medical students at Harvard.

He and Farmer strove to raise the standard of medical care in rural Haiti, where Partners in Health established a clinic to serve the impoverished, Kim said.

“Our first project was building functioning health care systems that took care of people in their entirety,” he said.

Partners in Health built houses and provided education. “Health is not just medical care,” Kim said. “Health is all these things at once.”

Kim also discussed the “implementation bottleneck” in health care, noting that many people don’t have access to existing technology and medicine.

The past two decades have seen a surge in funds committed to global health, posing an important question for the field’s leaders, Kim said.

“Now what do we do?” he asked. “We’ve got all this money. Are we really doing what we need to do?”

Kim emphasized the need to collaborate, share knowledge and take an interdisciplinary approach to guide the projects that recent funds and commitments to global health have made possible.

“Just about every problem of (health care) delivery has been solved somewhere in a really brilliant fashion,” he said. “But we need a lot more.”

In 2007, in order to address this need, Kim and his colleagues founded the Global Health Delivery Project, an organization that researches and spreads knowledge about effective health care systems, he said.

Kim said strengthening education about health care delivery and implementation can also change how public health leaders approach health care systems.

This year, Harvard’s public health program and medical school launched a collaborative program to teach students about what he calls “health care delivery science,” he said.

But “teaching about the complexity of global health delivery” has to start at the undergraduate level, he said.

Kim said he thinks the purpose of an undergraduate education is “to make people feel that there’s no problem that they can’t take on — and to give them the teeth to do that,” he said.

Kim was selected to give Tuesday’s 10th annual memorial lecture in honor of Professor Emeritus of Medical Science Frederick Barnes Jr. and his wife before Kim was announced as Dartmouth’s next president, said Terrie Wetle, associate dean of medicine for public health and public policy, who helped organize the event.

Wetle said Kim’s recent appointment indicates that public health and internationalization are receiving recognition at schools such as Brown and Dartmouth.

“Dr. Kim is just a wonderfully internationally acknowledged leader in … global health and human rights,” Wetle said.

Kim, who spoke for about 40 minutes, took a few questions at the end of the lecture that touched on a variety of topics, including the role of public and private organizations in global health issues.

He apologized for not being able to speak for a long time, saying that in addition to his three jobs in Boston and his new appointment at Dartmouth, he has a six-week-old child at home.

“I had canceled most everything else,” he said. “But I didn’t cancel Brown.”