Originally published on January 27, 2009, on the BUSPH Insider.
Rohit Ramchandani knows firsthand the countless directions that a career in international health can take him. By the time he began working towards his master of public health degree at BU School of Public Health in 2004, he had already completed a World Health Organization internship at the renowned LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, India, worked with residents in the rainforests of Guyana on various health promotion and prevention projects, and completed two research terms with the Department of Ophthalmology at one of Toronto’s largest hospitals.
For Ramchandani, 27, who was born in Canada, the seeds for a professional career in global health were planted early on when, as a child, he visited India with his family.
“Seeing people living in poverty definitely shaped the way I saw and thought about the world,” Ramchandani said. “Being born in Canada allowed me to realize how fortunate I am to have grown up here and received the opportunities I’ve been given. It also provided a stark contrast to many of the places I have visited, and instilled a sense of responsibility in me to continue in the public health field.”
As a concentrator in international health and epidemiology at BUSPH, one of Ramchandani’s focuses was eye care. For his practicum, he worked as regional director of Canada for Unite for Sight, an international non-profit organization dedicated to improving eye health and preventable blindness worldwide. His thesis was “Cost-effective Models for Eye Care Delivery in the Developing World.”
And just two-and-a-half years after graduating from BUSPH, Ramchandani’s career has taken him down yet another road, but one with a similar theme. He is a senior program advisor at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Canadian government’s official development assistance program. He helps develop and manage programs geared toward preventing and combating infectious diseases like tuberculosis and malaria.
In his position with CIDA, he has been working with the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership on the Affordable Medicines Facility for Malaria (AMFm), a project that puts him right in the middle of a global effort to make valuable, but costly, malaria treatments available to those who desperately need them. As a representative of Canada, Ramchandani said his focus is to make sure that the benefits of the AMFm reach those disproportionately affected by the disease, particularly the poor.
The RBM Partnership is a collection of international organizations, foundations and private sector businesses working toward achieving the malaria-related objectives of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. The partnership has been involved in the development of the AMFm, and serves as an advisor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, where the AMFm will be housed. The AMFm, in essence, will be a financing instrument designed to subsidize the cost of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) for people in malaria-endemic countries.
There are one- to three-million cases of malaria each year and, increasingly, malaria parasites are becoming resistant to medicines used to treat the disease. The most effective forms of treatment are ACTs, which take the drug artemisinin and combine it with other anti-malarial drugs.
The AMFm lowers the cost of ACTs by negotiating price reductions with drug manufacturers and instituting a co-payment. It will also facilitate in-country support systems that put ACTs in the hands of people who need them. Currently, it is still in its pilot stage.
Ramchandani is a member of the RBM’s AMFm Taskforce, which has been providing technical advice on the policy framework and implementation plan for the facility. He works closely with a number of partners like the Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, the World Bank, other governments and stakeholders. Ramchandani was also selected as one of 12 representatives to sit on the Global Fund’s AMFm Ad-Hoc Committee, which oversees and guides the work of the Global Fund Secretariat and any concerns in the design of the program.
“The taskforce is truly a collaborative effort,” Ramchandani said. “It’s impressive to see what is being accomplished across geographic and organizational boundaries.”
“This project has the potential to save millions of lives and the global health community is eagerly waiting to see how it will perform,” he said.
It’s also a long, in-depth process, but Ramchandani is excited to be involved with it.
“There are so many details that need to be considered before the program is rolled out,” he said. “Consultants, researchers, policymakers are putting together plans every step of the way. But it is a really interesting learning experience — getting to see how research is transferred to policy at the global level firsthand.”
The first phase of the AMFm is scheduled to start in a handful of countries later this year, which will allow for an opportunity to fine tune the project before a full-scale global roll out.
As for where his career might take him in the future, Ramchandani is in a good place from which to navigate.
At this stage, he said, he has been fortunate enough to begin to develop an expertise in certain areas, like malaria, tuberculosis and ocular health, but he’s still interested in pursuing an “understanding in the root causes and common threads” that bind critical global health issues together like poverty, politics and populations.
“I have a lot more of the world to see before I can claim to fully understand it,” he said.