NEW HAVEN, CONN.: Barbara Bush was struck by what she saw when she arrived in Africa more than a decade ago as her father, then-President George W. Bush, unveiled a plan to combat AIDS: Hundreds of people were waiting in the streets for antiretroviral drugs that were readily available in the United States for years.
“I think that enraged me,” said Bush, a 32-year-old New York resident. “That experience really is what opened me up to considering global health as a career path for myself.”
Bush, twin sister Jenna Bush Hager and four others went on to create Global Health Corps in 2008. The group places young professionals and recent college graduates in fellowships with health organizations in the United States and Africa for a year of service to improve health care access.
The knowledge and medicine are available to prevent millions of deaths around the world, “and yet we aren’t using it well enough to do so,” Bush said.
She spoke to The Associated Press on Friday as Global Health Corps planned to welcome its sixth class of fellows at Yale University for more than two weeks of training. Selected from a pool of nearly 5,000 applicants, the incoming class of 128 fellows — the largest ever — is from 22 countries.
Bush said that after that experience in Africa in 2003, she became “obsessed” with global health, taking all the courses she could before graduating from Yale in 2004. She worked for Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, and interned for UNICEF in Botswana before helping to create Global Health Corps.
Fellows have diverse backgrounds. Architects in Rwanda designed better air flow systems at a health center to prevent the spread of tuberculosis, and now the plan is being implemented around the country, Bush said. In Malawi, supply chain experts were able to reduce instances of running out of prescription drugs in one district by 28 percent, she said, noting that mothers often walked miles only to find critically needed drugs out of stock even though they were available in the country.
Bush said she doesn’t see herself running for political office, laughing as she called that idea “very, very unlikely.” She noted there are different types of service and that her work as chief executive for the global health nonprofit suits her personality.
With the latest recruits, Global Health Corps has 450 fellows. They are rising up the ranks of organizations and government ministries, creating a network of leaders who can shape policy and create organizations to fill gaps in health care, Bush said.
“I think that’s what’s exciting to us, the power of this network,” she said. “I think we have big dreams for what they will do with their career.”