Is the Peace Corps on its way to becoming just a placement agency for other people’s programs?

If the new Peace Corps Response “partnership” with Global Health Service is any indication that might well be the future for the agency. So what do you all think? It is critical, in my opinion, that the RPCV community review and comment on this new direction. These are my concerns. Peace Corps might lend the name, administration support, and participant benefits, but it seems to me  that Global Health Services will oversee every step of the program from recruitment to selection to training to placement and supervision. Wouldn’t  this program be far more suitable  for any of the major organizations working in Africa, such as the Gates Foundation, USAID, or the World Health Organization? Show me where I am wrong.

Global Health Service will share responsibilities with Peace Corps in what appears to be a duel system with the policy and program decisions resting with Global Heath Service. The administrative functions of the Peace Corps will be to facilitate the overseas placements of thirty-six doctors and nurses recruited by Global Health Service as mentors and educators. But some of the unique characteristics that make the concept “Peace Corps” so desirable will not be part of that partnership.

The most glaring difference is, of course, that these doctors and nurses will receive substantial compensation up to $30,000 for a year’s service to help with their student’s loans. There are plans to also offer help with mortgages and other financial needs. The money will be provided by private funding and is not available to the traditional Peace Corps Volunteer or Response Volunteer.

The second difference is that the impetus for the program did not come in response to requests from the host countries of Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania, as mandated by the earliest Peace Corps legislation. Rather Dr. Vanessa Kerry, well experienced in overseas health service delivery, decided that recruiting doctors and nurses to teach and mentor overseas would improve the academic environment for medical education in those countries.

In an NRP interview, Dr. Kerry said, We’ve been very clear that these people are there to provide faculty support and integrate with faculty in these institutions. “Very clear” to whom? The staff of the Peace Corps Office of Global Health and HIV? The overseas HC Peace Corps staff? Or, the public health officials of the Host Country? Dr. Kerry is the daughter of the very powerful Senator and possible Secretary of State, John Kerry. Peace Corps staff, beginning with the fabled Sargent Shriver, have always been adept at persuading host country officials to accept Volunteers in particular programs, but it has always been a matter of negotiation, not dictation.

Most importantly, the heart of Peace Corps is Volunteers working cross culturally with host country people together to find ways to solve problems to improve people’s lives. The value of that cross-cultural experience and the knowledge gained by that service is not acknowledged anywhere in the project’s concept paper. Indeed, as mentioned before, Dr. Kerry was unaware that nurses and doctors had been Peace Corps Volunteers during the last fifty years.

Here is how the dual program is supposed to work.

Peace Corps staff at the country post, in conjunction with host country officials will select the appropriate sites. Global Heath Service will then advertise the positions and will work with US medical institutions to recruit candidates. They will also verify the credentials of candidates for the position. “The PCR recruiter will be essential in discussing the principles of Peace Corps service with applicant and determining placement suitability.” It is not clear who makes the final decision on the application. This is the training that GHSPVS will receive:  “(1)’immersion orientation’, highlighting variations between developed and developing countries’ health education and delivery infrastructures, (2) country-specific orientation (review of national health education systems, national health policies and guidelines), (3) site-specific orientation in the country assignment.”

Peace Corps Posts in the field will provide direct Volunteer support to GHSPVS in the field, including medical care, safety and security, housing, and administrative support.  But there will also be a Global Health Service Coordinator at each post to provide additional guidance and assistance.  “Additionally, the Coordinator with work closely with other USG counterparts as well as programming staff at post and host country partners on site development, placement, and training of GHSPV. ”

“Peace Corps will also be responsible for insuring that the host country accepts reciprocal licensure to practice and deliver direct medical treatment and care in country. Provision of malpractice insurance or indemnity will be required.” (Note: “Traditional” PCVs and RPCVs and staff are all prohibited from providing direct medical care because of the danger that they could be exposed to HIV/AID via body fluids of the patients. It is not mentioned in the concept paper how GHSPVS will be protected from this danger.)

Again, what do you all think?


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  • You make some very important points that deserve careful thought. It may well be that another international organization is better suited, such as the U.N. Foundation. These days, it seems sadly true that government agencies are not the best place to foster innovation anyway. So, on top of your concerns, I would add that.

    Not apropos of anything, I remember being involved in the very early recruiting efforts of the Peace Corps and, on the way to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to recruit young research doctors, we realized we didn’t have a well-planned message, so we suggested simply that it might be the only, or at least best, opportunity they might get to see disease first-hand.

  • Toml

    Thank you for your observation. Really interesting. Colombia had a small pox epidemic in 1965 and the staff Peace Corps doctor came to our site because he thought it was his only chance to see the disease.

    I was not trained to give inoculations, but we did vaccination campaigns with the local nurse. I was very concerned because there was no way to really sterilize the needles. But, choices were made and vaccinations were the priority. Public Health in Colombia set up vaccination sites at airports and main roads leading into major cities. You couldn’t enter unless you could show vaccination scar or better yet, a fresh scab. I was traveling and was vaccinated more than once….with those needles.

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