A Conversation with John Barber, UMMS 2019
Please tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in Global Health?
I am presently a 2nd year medical student at UMMS with a longstanding interest in global health. As an undergraduate student at UMass Amherst, I volunteered in Ghana for nine weeks in the summer of 2009. After that summer, I founded an organization with Ghanaian partners named Ghana ACT and worked in Ghana for an additional twelve months over the following three years. The goals of Ghana ACT were to advance local efforts in the fields of education, healthcare, and infrastructure development and to provide opportunities for international volunteers to participate in and learn from their Ghanaian counterparts. Ghana ACT is currently focused on improving access to clean water in Saviefe-Deme, a rural community in the Volta Region.
After graduation, I began working for a diagnostics startup, Daktari Diagnostics, working towards addressing the diagnostic needs of resource-limited settings, beginning with a point-of-care CD4 counter used for staging and monitoring patients with HIV. I led six clinical trials in Kenya, plus trials in Uganda and Botswana, all focused on assessing the performance of the diagnostic system and usability by healthcare workers in target settings. Having built relationships with health ministries and key opinion leaders, I spearheaded development of a commercial launch plan with regional and country-specific operational strategies.
I then joined the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) as Ebola Diagnostics Project Manager in early 2015. My primary responsibility was to lead an independent comparative evaluation in Sierra Leone to assess the performance of several of the new Ebola rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs). In collaboration with the WHO I developed policy recommendations regarding the use of the RDTs based on the performance data gathered and the usability as assessed in the field.
John while he was in Ghana working for Ghana Act in 2009.
What brought you to UMMS?
My participation in global health activities solidified my resolve to pursue a career in medicine. I felt that there was a limit to the impact I could have by working in diagnostics and that medicine will offer me opportunities to make a greater impact on the health of people around the world. UMMS offered an opportunity for an excellent medical education while maintaining a focus on global health through the Global Health Pathway, Capstone Project, and numerous international collaborations already established at the University. Understanding the impact diagnostics can have on the health of a population, witnessing the unnecessary loss of life Ebola inflicted in countries with failed healthcare systems, and knowing millions more die every year due to preventable diseases has made me interested in pursuing healthcare-systems strengthening, capacity-building, and maternal health in my career after UMMS.
How do you engage in Global Health while a busy Medical School Student?
I rejoined FIND in the summer of 2016, between my MS1 and MS2 years, as a consultant to support their efforts to improve diagnostics for febrile illnesses in resource limited settings. FIND was seeking additional collaborations with organizations around the world and I was responsible for evaluating laboratories and institutions in Gabon, Tanzania and Laos to assess interest and suitability as potential partners.
How do you see your Global Health work continuing while here at UMass Medical and thereafter?
I shall continue to collaborate with FIND and am developing my Capstone Project based on this initial summer project, hoping to improve patient care for febrile illnesses in resource limited settings.
John (far right) with his FIND Team in Sierra Leone (2015).