Leaders share universal health care experiences

Wafaie Fawzi, chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, with fellowship recipient Abayomi Ajala, MPH ’14
Wafaie Fawzi, chair, Department of Global Health and Population, with fellowship recipient Abayomi Ajala, MPH ’14

A natural disaster or a significant shift in a nation’s political leanings are among the forces that can spur countries to adopt universal health care (UHC), according to a panel of experts convened by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) to discuss the challenges nations may face when trying to implement health care for all.

When universal health care aligns with national priorities, it is more likely to work, said HSPH Dean Julio Frenk in a Harvard Gazette article. “In my opinion, the number one reason for success for reform is when it connects to the broader agenda in a country,” he said.

The First Annual Global Health Symposium, Transforming Health Systems for Universal Health Care, sponsored by HSPH’s Department of Global Health and Population, took place on April 15, 2014 at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center.

Global health symposium keynote speaker Samrit Srithamrongsawat
Keynote speaker Samrit Srithamrongsawat

Talks focused on the UHC experiences of Thailand, China, Mexico, and Turkey. Keynote speaker Samrit Srithamrongsawat, deputy secretary general of Thailand’s National Health Security Office, discussed his country’s experience adopting a universal health program. Moderator and participant Rifat Atun, professor of global health systems, discussed his experience in Turkey; Dean Frenk outlined his work introducing UHC in Mexico when he served as minister of health from 2000 to 2006; and William Hsaio, K.T. Li Professor of Economics, discussed his work in China. Ashish Jha, professor of health policy and management, discussed health care quality and measurement factors. Dean Frenk and Wafaie Fawzi, professor of nutrition, epidemiology and global health, and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, introduced the symposium.

The event was supported by the Harvard-Thai Ministry of Public Health Fellowship Fund, created through a gift from the Ministry of Public Health, Thailand. The global health symposium was held to honor the memory of the late Prince Mahidol of Songkla, who earned a medical degree and public health certificate from Harvard in the 1920s. He went on to serve as director-general of the Thai Ministry of Education’s University Department, to teach students at Siriraj Medical School, and to serve as a resident doctor at a missionary hospital in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Following his untimely death at age 37 in 1929, he was bestowed the title of “Father of Modern Medicine and Public Health of Thailand” for his many contributions to medicine and public health.

The Harvard-Thai Ministry of Public Health Fellowship Fund will provide support for students from developing countries pursuing a Master of Public Health degree program at HSPH. The Fund also will provide support for an academic lecture at HSPH for health professionals in honor of Prince Mahidol. The first two recipients of the fellowship are Patthrarawalai Phichalai, MPH ’14, and Abayomi Ajala, MPH ’14.

Read the Harvard Gazette article: The context of health care for all

photos: Emily Cuccarese