Dr. Patty Garcia: Peru’s minister of health urges new approach to fighting disease

Peru's Minister of Health Patty Garcia, a physician who is also on the faculty at the University of Washington, visits a patient in hospital. Credit: Peru MOH

For today’s Humanosphere podcast, we are talking with Dr. Patricia (Patty) Garcia who was recently appointed to become Minister of Health in Peru. Garcia is on the faculty, as a professor of global health, of the University of Washington in Seattle, was head of the Peruvian National Institute of Health and dean at the school of public health for Cayetano Heredia University in Lima. As Garcia describes in our interview, she became a doctor because of some personal struggles with illness, her own as a child and her father’s death from cancer.

Tom Paulson caught up with Garcia in Seattle where she spoke at a 10-year-anniversary celebration of the UW Department of Global Health, which featured talks by Melinda Gates, Governor Jay Inslee and other luminaries describing how Seattle became a global epicenter in the fight against diseases of poverty – and what needs to come next if the world is to build on the successes made so far in select areas such as maternal and child mortality, reducing malaria and HIV mortality and other killers. (Humanosphere was lucky to catch Garcia, who got called back to Peru that same day to help with severe flooding.)

Dr. Patty Garcia, at far right, participates at a Seattle forum on global health. From left, the Gates Foundation's head of development Chris Elias, Kenyan researcher Elizabeth Bukusi, UW global health chair Judith Wasserheit and Peter Piot, co-discoverer of the Ebola virus and head of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Credit: UW Tara Brown

Dr. Patty Garcia, at far right, participates at a Seattle forum on global health. From left, the Gates Foundation’s head of development Chris Elias, Kenyan researcher Elizabeth Bukusi, UW global health chair Judith Wasserheit and Peter Piot, co-discoverer of the Ebola virus and head of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Credit: UW Tara Brown

Garcia came to global health as an infectious disease specialist, an epidemiologist, studying in Seattle with Dr. King Holmes, who was founding director of the UW global health department and is a world-renowned expert on HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. As Garcia says in our chat, the focus in global health – and much of the success stories – has been on targeting specific (usually infectious) diseases. The emphasis now, she says, must be on creating sustainable and effective health systems that provide basic, effective services to everyone aimed not so much at reducing the morbidity and mortality from one specific disease but on improving health overall.

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The American health care system, or non-system as some critics might say, is not a model for Garcia. It is great for some specific needs such as treatment for cancer, she noted, yet it is also the most expensive, frequently ineffective and one of the most inequitable approaches to health care on the planet. “You are dedicated to tertiary care,” she said. “But the truth is the system the US has is not a good model because it is not promoting prevention.”

As usual, before we talk with our main guest Garcia, Tom Paulson and I discuss some of the week’s news highlights in the Humanosphere – beginning with the story we can’t ignore, the refusal of the American judiciary to enforce President Trump’s so-called travel ban.

We also noted a story by Tom Murphy on less-appreciated effect of one of Trump’s goals – to ‘destroy the Johnson rule’ which restricts religious organizations from political activity and expression. As Murphy wrote, many non-profit organizations would not welcome a change that ‘freed’ them to engage in partisan politics. We also noted a story by Lisa Nikolau on a World Bank report that challenges the assumption that poverty and inequity is the cause of Latin America’s epidemic of violence (Paulson explains why he’s not convinced).

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Finally, we wanted to highlight a very promising story by Joanne Lu on how close the world is getting to finally (finally!) eradicating polio. There were less than 40 polio cases reported last year in just three countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, and health officials believe we are on the cusp of eradicating only the second human disease after smallpox.

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About Author

Imana Gunawan

Imana Gunawan is Humanosphere's social media manager and podcast producer. A University of Washington graduate in journalism and dance, Imana's interests include underrepresented communities, the intersection between politics and culture, global-local issues and the arts. She can be reached at @imanafg on Twitter or imana@humanosphere.org