Its been about a year or more, since I began working in public health. This post is to consolidate what I have gathered during this period.
To continue in the direction of my master’s research project on which I have blogged before, I was hoping to do more work in the area of natural resource governance. But that was not to be!
In parallel, I had also done several rounds of meeting people in WHO and public health related NGOs in Geneva. Health was not completely off the radar for me, in any case, since I had spent a good deal of time at The Graduate Institute in Geneva, trying to understand access to medicine issues – both trade and intellectual property aspects. I had also analysed the impact of the policies of the World Health Organization on the private sector, for a trade law firm I was working for.
Eventually, I sort of stumbled on an opportunity to work in the one of most neglected diseases in public health – tuberculosis.
I took the opportunity to learn more about a disease that kills more than 1.5 million people every year, or 3 people a minute, to be more precise. And India, has the highest burden of TB in the world.
I did not realise I would have to dig up deep into the reserves of my mind, going back to the days during my bachelors’ when I majored in microbiology, genetics and chemistry! I figured, life did come a full circle. Nervously, I poured over a basic epidemiology text book. Yes, I had to know what ‘smear-positive’ and ‘prevalence’ meant, but it was more than that. My work is less about the science itself, and more about locating the science or public health in a certain context: political, economic and legal.
It has been a great vantage point to see how public health campaigns are built, to understand the dynamics of health financing, to see how political processes can be shaped so that countries to sign up for commitments on public health, and to witness the over-arching debates on price, procurement and access to medicines.
It has been an interesting explorative process to engage with questions such as what would spur investments into R&D for drug-resistant TB, at a time when antimicrobial resistance is widespread? Or which is the best way to integrate TB into national public health systems, so that more patients are diagnosed and treated? Do the solutions to combat a curable disease, lie outside the realms of public health, such as urban planning and high level political choices such as universal health coverage? And importantly, why has the world failed in stopping the spread of a disease that has killed nearly 2 billion people over thousands of years? Or simply, why does HIV/AIDS get far more funding and attention, than TB? Complex questions all. A myriad of actors all over the world are trying to answer these challenges.
A part of my work, also involved converting scientific information and numbers in layman’s terms, while preserving accuracy and lucidity. In trying to do so, I was struck, for the first time, about the importance of design and communication in public health. It led me to a whole new science or art, if you wish, on how information can be structured. Fascinating!
This has surely given me invaluable perspective on why health is political, and more.