Peace Corps Withdrawing From Global Seed Health Hurts Medical Training in Africa


(Thanks to Alana deJoseph, Mali 1992-94 and Producer of The Towering Task, a Peace Corps documentary, for the information on this story)

Peace Corps and Global Seed Health were in partnership for five years to train medical professionals in Africa. Peace Corps is terminating the partnership as of September 30, 2018. (See:

Now comes an interview on PBS with reporter Fred de Sam Lazaro about the consequence in Africa of the end of this partnership.  Dr. Vanessa Kerry is the Director of Global Seed Health. She is attributed with the following explanation:

 “Dr. Kerry blames the Peace Corps decision politics and says the resulting cutbacks will force a significant scaling back from five countries to two, including Uganda, and far fewer American medical volunteers.”

Peace Corps declined to comment.  Here is the story from PBS.

A “brain drain” is sending many of Africa’s highly skilled workers abroad–and leaving a painful void in their absence. But an organization called Seed Global Health is training new medical professionals and encouraging them to remain in their native countries, where they are so desperately needed. Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Uganda as part of his series Agents for Change.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first, across the continent of Africa, a brain drain sends many of its highest-skilled professionals abroad.

    But as Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Uganda, one organization is trying to build a pipeline to keep medical professionals working in their native country.

    It’s part of Fred’s series Agents for Change.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    This class of 30 soon-to-be nurse midwives are training in Lira in Northern Uganda, a new university set up to address this country’s severe shortage of trained medical professionals.

    Key members of the faculty are American volunteers with a program called Seed Global Health. Over the past five years, it has sent 184 medical professionals to five African countries, training nearly 14,000 students.

    Emergency room physician Vanessa Kerry founded the nonprofit.

  • Dr. Vanessa Kerry:

    If you look at sub-Saharan Africa, it has 24 percent of the world’s global burden of disease, and only 3 percent of the world health care work force with which to address that disease. That’s a huge disparity.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    Kerry, who is the daughter of former Secretary of State John Kerry, first became interested in global health as a teenager, when her father, then a senator, took her to Vietnam.

  • Dr. Vanessa Kerry:

    That trip was game-changing for me, I mean, just the absence of resources, no electricity, no running water, no shoes on kids.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    In 2012, some two decades later, with degrees in medicine and public health, she founded Seed in partnership with the Peace Corps, sending U.S. doctors, nurses and midwives for one-year stints in rural Africa.

    Midwife Linda Jacobson from Olympia, Washington, served a year in Tanzania and is now Uganda conducting specialized seminars.

  • Linda Jacobson:

    There’s incredible satisfaction about making what would be a small difference in the United States is a huge — can make a huge difference in the lives of women and babies in these settings.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    The curriculum, the first to offer bachelor’s degrees, is meant to radically upgrade the way nursing is perceived and practiced in Uganda to revive a profession that currently gets little respect and resources, with predictable results, says Okaka Dokotum, deputy vice chancellor of Lira University.

  • Okaka Dokotum:

    You have mothers who die in childbirth because of neglect or nurses were late. There is lack of kindness. And I see that — a lack of professionalism. It’s an ethical issue.

    And over and over, we talk to our students and say, we want you to do something different.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    Third-year student Patience Nafulla says the clinical experience has already given her a fulfilling experience, recalling one new mother’s deep gratitude after a difficult delivery.

  • Patience Nafulla:

    I talked her through it. When I came back the following day, she knelt down for me. She knelt.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    She knelt down before you.

  • Patience Nafulla:

    That really touched me. And I knew from that moment I can make a difference.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    The emerging crop of nurses and midwives have been trained under conditions that would be considered normal in the West or in private clinics here, things like access to clean water, stable electricity, adequate supplies.

    The problem is, these basics are far from guaranteed in much of the workplace they’re going into, especially in rural areas.

    Lira University’s Dokotum does worry that Uganda’s public health system is not yet fully equipped to absorb the new highly skilled graduates.

  • Okaka Dokotum:

    It’s like having a Ferrari and then just going at 20 kilometers per hour, you know? So it’s going to take changing policy. We will have to try to influence policy to make sure that room is created for this new coterie of nurses and midwives.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    Geoffrey Odong would certainly like to see that policy change. The recent graduate from the Seed program is interning at a public hospital and says he often feels resented for his higher-level skills. He’s allowed mostly to just observe, he complains.

  • Geoffrey Odong:

    What we’re trained on, we are not being allowed to practice.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    So you could be doing much more than you are doing?

  • Geoffrey Odong:


  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    For its part, the Seed Global Health program faces a threat of its own. The Peace Corps recently announced it would exit starting this fall, citing a change in its approach to such partnerships. The Corps declined our request for an interview.

  • Dr. Vanessa Kerry:

    I’m really, really proud of what we have done. And I am frustrated.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    Dr. Kerry blames the Peace Corps decision politics and says the resulting cutbacks will force a significant scaling back from five countries to two, including Uganda, and far fewer American medical volunteers.

  • Dr. Vanessa Kerry:

    There’s been I think, a real concern, around global health funding, a worry that global health funding is going to be at risk.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    As she and colleagues regroup and seek other funding, Uganda’ health care system must contend with a different kind of threat, poaching.

    Well-trained nurses are in high demand in the West, Middle East, Gulf states and elsewhere in Africa, where salaries and working conditions are far better than in Uganda.

    As university officials and advocates work to improve conditions here, students, such as Patience Nafulla, face a fraught personal dilemma.

  • Patience Nafulla:

    I prefer being here. If we have everyone go out, who will then stay to help our country? The temptation is there. There is better pay. The resources are there. Why not go? Why stay? So, that’s the challenge.

  • Fred de Sam Lazaro:

    The challenge for Uganda will be to improve its health care system and coax students like these to stay and work here, particularly in rural areas.

    It’s estimated that one of every four midwife positions in the public health system is unfilled.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Fred de Sam Lazaro in Lira, Uganda.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.


Leave a comment
  • For many of us RPCVs staying in touch with affairs in Africa, there has been a growing concern about this very thing — educating Africa’s best students to emigrate, leaving things at home as bad or worsethan before. Often creating the absurdity where Peace Corps and other nurses and teachers are teaching African students in Africa, whilst African nurses and teachers are living and working in Europe and North America.

    Those of us who have objected to this situation as ultimately disasterous, often have been accused of a lack of sympathy and hard-heartedness.

    And it isn’t just sub-Saharan Africa. In southern California’s health care today, it seems like EVERYBODY, esp doctors, all seem to be from somewhere else — like India, Pakistan, The Philippines.

    Eventually the pragmatic, short-sighted idea of solving all of the world’s problems, or advancing some deluded free market idea, by cramming a third of the entire world population into Europe and North America is going to be challenged. In fact, in Europe it already is, and expectably accompanied by accusations of racism and hand-wringing. Missing the larger point altogether. John Turnbull Lower Canoncito, NM

  • John,

    You raise some very interesting points. However, your last paragraph left me puzzled. We are more than half a century from the time when the !st Goal of the Peace Corps was created and I paraphrase, to send trained men and women overseas to meet the needs of requesting countries.

  • Hi Joanne, Not sure what puzzles you. My basic point is that PCVs were sent to help host countries, as well as to understand them — not to eliminate them, nor make them worse off than before. IF host country governments today seem not to care, OR are convniently solving overpopulation pressures by simply exporting people to Europe, it raises a different question for efforts like the PC. I would like to know what you are thinking, regarding what the PC is all about — or what in today’s world it should be about. John T

  • Hi Joanne, There aren’t very many RPCVs who served in Africa both during the colonial era, and then the post-independence Africa. I remember that period well, including what people were thinking and hoping for, with independence. It reminds me a bit about today’s Brexit vote, and if the voters really understood the eventualities of what they were voting for. What strikes me, with this current surge of emigration of the most educated Africans, ironically to W Europe, and toward the very colonial powers their grandparents voted to leave and get out. Nobody is emigrating to Russia, China, Japan, E Europe, India, Pakistan, or SE Asia. All are heading toward the former colonial countries. It says something, since after a half-century of government by their own indigenous leadership, it’s THIS they’re seeking to flee FROM, and the colonial countries they’re fleeing TO.

    I think, for an individual PCV, there is a difference in what one might think about a host country individual and friend, and what would be best for them, versus a government-level policy, affecting not just one person, but the entire nation.

    I’m anxious to hear YOUR impressions, and what of my reasoning is puzzling. John T

  • John,

    I find your comments and questions really important. I haven’t answered because I am still working on my response.
    But, you certainly have me thinking.

  • Hi Joanne, In the midst of this emigration phenomenon and brain-drain, and it’s eventual consequences, we shouldn’t forget that there also is the Second Goal, and Third Goal, of the original Peace Corps vision and purpose. John T

  • We are on the same wave length. I think that the Third Goal has been extraordinary made successful by the efforts of RPCVs, independent of official Washington. John Coyne has documented the number of RPCV ambassadors, which is exactly what Kennedy envisioned. There are over 1000 books authored by RPCVs; many published and/or promoted by John and Marian. RPCV affiliate groups work to preserve PEace Corps history, educate the public and support projects in the host countries in which they served.

    As for the second goal, the world knows American Peace Corps Volunteers as we are and that cannot be “faked”.

    It is the First Goal where I think Peace Corps has had its greates failures. The success of the Third Goal cannot mask those problems.

  • I thought the Peace Corps was over and done with when under Bush 2 the PC was merged under a national service combo with the military. Well that didn’t last long. So maybe all will be well, or at least better. Hope is on the way and maybe if we just stay out of it then it will just get here all the faster without all that huff n’ puff I often fall for. Then again I have before been deluded (or “delusional” as Margo Mycue says). This is certain: we need to inform people of our views expressively.

    • Edward,
      There was a proposal during Bush 2 which would have allowed military personnel with a six year commitment to complete that commitment by combining their military service with two years in the Peace Corps. I believe it was proposed by Senator McCain. There was vigorous opposition from the RPCV community. Whether that is what made a difference or whether the military really objected; the bill was never passed. The Peace Corps was never combined with the military.


    Our nation’s House got soiled.
    A bright symbol has darkened.


    It was never really “White”
    And now it is black as night.

    *But all I got was a moody couplet
    **Plus another (so call them douplets)

    © Copyright Edward Mycue 1 IX 2018

  • Hi Joanne, and thanks. I wonder if it is that the Peace Corps has had it’s greatest “failures” with the original First Goal, or whether it has, is this instance, been TOO SUCCESSFUL. And indigenous African governments, acting (or failing to act) with the UN and international aid organizations like USAID, have been too slow to recognize the Peace Corps’ First Goal successes ?

    My mind will always go back to those chance encounters with all the African village children who “Schoolmastah” excused from school to follow my intrepid field crew on our geological investigations — following us in single file through the African Bush, and totally trusting they would be OK, because the BeegMahn (that’s pl) from Zomba were there. No harm would come, if WE were there ! Even the “Portogee Mahn” and the soldiers would listen to us — maybe after we had offered them some cigarettes, and the gesture of lighting them up — and then a few to take back with them. In Africa of a half-century ago, gestures of friendship. So, what was a five-year-old, looking on in awe, to fear ?? God, what memories, of a now-old, retired PC geologist !

    Thinking back, those toddlers of long ago are today village elders. I wish there was some way to see them again, and talk about how life has unfolded for them, since those unscripted, impromptu jaunts across the High Veldt, and digging holes everywhere; and then, as they all listened, debating good-natouredly with widows and other young women in the village, about how to “inspire a man”, rather than just “catch him”. Probably Sargent Shriver couldn’t have imagined it.

    What would those now-elderly toddlers say today ? It probably is a Peace Corps story that can never be told. But one that would bring cheers from even John Kennedy and Sargent Shriver. Understanding, really, is why we were there. Perhaps, Edward Mycue, there is a poem here ?? John Turnbull Lower Canoncito, New Mexico

    AMERICANS AGES mostly under 30
    emphasizing peace, not conflict —
    when J.F. Kennedy first gathered us in
    Today trees, birds, shady groves, rain forests, an ambient melody of passion to the meek
    are foolish faults to stubbed-out & worn citizenry. Our former Hope House has become a soiled symbol wanting questions who’s answers we’ve no ears to hear, hearts to heal, wills to dare.
    But if Jack Kennedy would be alive he would tells i that EARS HEAR, HEARTS HEAL, WILLS DARE & WE SHARE

    © Copyright Edward Mycue 2 September 2018 for John Turnbull who sees a poem challenging story in this time

    • thanks Joanne bit that final line should have JFK “tell us that Ears Hear….” My fingers I blame but it’s my lack of accurate checking and just pumping on. You know well you don’t but I was critical of Jack Kennedy because he was “too slow, too cautious” but I was young and headstrong. He was right to be careful and even so he was in the dangers that killed him. So when Obama became President I worried for him.

  • Thanks, Edward, for the sentiments. Unlike us, today’s volunteers serve in the shadow of half a dozen or more volunteers who have been ahead of them. And I’m sure host country folks are aware and remember who was who, and who said what. However, that isn’t to say that today’s service is any less valuable. But it DOES probably lack the sense of adventure of we earliest volunteers.

    All of those village toddlers I knew so long ago, even though today they’re elders, will always remain in my mind and heart as children. I sometimes wonder if, on a quiet evening, sitting around the village, they remember the “European Mahn” and his crew who once came to the village — and who took the time to talk to the then-children. The first European they ever had talked to. I wonder if it is some of their own children and grandchildren, who today are anxious to emigrate to Europe. John T

      —————-Much passes through us we worms

      –———— What we have been: we were again
      –————- Having journeyed to the ends of us
      –———– Started-out on our journey’s destiny

      —––——— Phoenix time at our sun dances now
      ————— What we were, we were again
      ————– What have still been is us
      ————- What is left is maybe nothing

      —————-“a nothing out of which it all began” *

      (C) Copyright Edward Mycue 5 ix 2018

      for Turnbull/ BEIL/ Coyne/ROLL/PCVs-&-RPCVs seeing forward and from far back

      *Alan Watts

  • The Early Grape

    We are the early grape
    flat, dry, and cloudy.
    The time is short,
    but some days never end.
    There is no joyous lake.
    There is no incantation
    that can bend the moment back
    into patterns we may see too late.

    Wait for tomorrow?
    Tomorrow never comes.
    Wait for tomorrow?
    Tomorrow never comes.

    Three’s a crowd.
    The spunky one’s the cream in your coffee.
    I know I know we said.
    That’s the thing!
    Do it. Do it now.

    Early wine is flat, dry and cloudy
    and some days never end.
    There is no joyous lake.
    There is no incantation
    that can bend the moment back
    into the patterns we have seen too late. © Copyright Edward Mycue

  • Thank you for the thoughtful comments and the poems. I want to mention something I found unexpectedly uplifting.
    In the midst of all the “sturm und drang” over the trade negotiations between China and the US, there was a celebration in China of the the 25 Year Anniversary of Peace Corps in China. Director Olsen was there to swear in 72 new Peace Corps Volunteers for China, also. Director Olsen speech included this statement:

    “At its heart, this program brings together people to share knowledge, world views, cultural riches and the values and shared aspirations of the American and Chinese peoples,” said Olsen. “We could not be prouder of our shared legacy, or more grateful for the friendship and collaboration of our Chinese partners.”

    I am very hopeful.

  • Thanks, Joanne. China RPCVs speak highly of their program, and the Chinese staffers they had.

    Reading the latest about the Chinese Gov’t’s new idea for “Social Credit”, a monumental scheme for surveillance of the entire society (and eventually even non-Chinese, like serving PCVs), I really hope that this won’t be the end of something good.

    For anybody upset about spooks reading our e-mails and listening to international phone calls, what is planned for China (with immediate penalties applied) is really scary. A planned installation of millions of surveillance cameras, and even minor infractions like jaywalking can decrease one’s social credit score, and cause the person to be banned from boarding an airplane or even riding a train. It’s been called “The first big foray into digital technology totalitarianism”.

    Let’s RPCVs and friends of PC keep our fingers crossed. John Turnbull

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