Campus News

Former leader of global AIDS program to discuss ‘systems approach’ to public health

Jim Yong Kim

Jim Yong Kim, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, will introduce new ways of tackling worldwide public health challenges at the next “Global Diseases: Voices from the Vanguard” lecture on Feb. 12.

In the 4 p.m. event in the Chapel, the MacArthur “genius” fellow will tell how his clinical experience in developing countries and administrative responsibilities at the World Health Organization led him to think differently about solving public health problems. This will be the substance of his address entitled “Bridging the Implementation Gap: Global Health Delivery.”

“Kim is using a ‘systems approach’ to public health, analogous to the approach being taken in many top biology laboratories,” said Patricia Thomas, Grady College’s Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism. “Systems analysis means looking at the whole cell, organism or even public health system, and trying to understand how its many parts work together. This reverses the usual approach  where researchers may focus so intently on one part that they never contemplate the whole.”

Thousands of people die every day because global health programs lack the capacity to deliver life-saving interventions such as clean water, adequate food, vaccines and medical treatments. Kim advocates gathering, analyzing and widely disseminating a comprehensive body of practical, actionable insights that will make global health delivery more effective.

His message is a provocative one for students, because Kim wants to educate a new generation of global health “master implementers.” He envisions these experts not only as researchers but also as creators of field-based innovation centers that will be living laboratories for implementation science. He also is working toward a Web-based “community of practice” that allows practitioners to tap databases and experts half a world away, collaborating to solve immediate problems.

“The Web-based ‘community of practice’ is an innovative idea,” Thomas said. “He will probably talk about using laptops and PDAs to connect doctors in the field with academic experts.”

Kim has spent 20 years working to improve health in developing countries.

A reception at Demosthenian Hall follows the lecture.