New Boston-based Peace Corps partnership to place doctors, nurses in developing countries

WASHINGTON—Dr. Vanessa Bradford Kerry, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and executive director of the Global Health Services Corps, announced a new global health service partnership Tuesday morning with the Peace Corps and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to place nurses, doctors and other health professionals as adjunct faculty in foreign medical and nursing schools.

The partnership will begin working with Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Global Health this summer to help design the medical and nursing education programs, Kerry said today at The National Press Club.

“Global health, and a campaign for health equity, has captured our collective generation,” Kerry said. “We know things can and should be different.”

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The partnership will help ease the shortage of health professionals in less developed countries that are hardest hit by HIV/AIDS, and is expected to begin in Tanzania, Malawi, and Uganda in July 2013.

“Health systems in developing countries suffer from major shortages of health personnel, limiting their ability to deliver even basic health care, let alone respond to growing and emerging epidemics,” Kerry said.

Africa, for example, has 24 percent of the global burden of disease but only 3 percent of the world’s health workforce, she said.

Given the large amount of educational loan debt the average medical student has upon graduation—$160,000—doctors, even if they want to, may not readily be able to afford to serve, Kerry said. The program will support US health professionals committed to international health service by providing loan repayment stipends to those eligible for every year served, she said.

Her father, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, had touted the new program Monday night during an fundraiser he hosted in the family’s Georgetown home for President Obama’s re-election campaign.

Volunteers will serve one-year assignments—with the option to extend their service for a second year if successful—in the Peace Corps Response program, which was expanded in January to allow experienced professionals to serve in short-term, high-impact Peace Corps assignments in dozens of countries around the world.

In addition to augmenting classroom education, the volunteers will see patients and help provide education for clinical care, Kerry said.

Participants in the global health service partnership will receive the same benefits as Peace Corps Response volunteers, including monthly living stipends, transportation to and from their country of service, comprehensive medical care, readjustment allowances and vacation days.