Just five weeks into the job, Lois Quam arrives at a pivotal time as the first executive director of the Global Health Initiative (GHI). Fiscal Year 2012 is the fourth year of the initiative’s six-year timeframe and questions abound on funding and improving the health of women and girls, meeting country ownership goals and coordinating efforts among large multilateral organizations.
Quam is new to global health but brings experience from the private sector to her role and has worked on health care for two decades, both in her native Minnesota and nationally as an adviser to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s health care task force.
At a town hall meeting at the Kaiser Family Foundation Tuesday, she fielded a range of questions on GHI’s future. Some of the most interesting ones touched on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), efforts targeted at women and girls and proposed cuts to family planning.
When asked how she would advise countries to leverage GHI in addressing NCDs, Quam stressed the importance of having an integrated and sustainable health care system that helps countries prepare for treating people with chronic illnesses.
Quam was asked about the change from describing GHI’s strategy as implementing a woman- and girl-centered approach to a focus on improving the health of women; how to better address women’s and girl’s health; and cuts to family planning. The recurring theme in her responses was to refer to Secretary of State Clinton’s commitment to these efforts while acknowledging that more needs to be done.
In response to why she took the job, Quam mentioned her love of challenges and accomplishing things that might have once seemed too hard. She didn’t specify what she thought might be the toughest question she gets when she makes her first trip to Capitol Hill but said she’s determined to fight for results and support within Congress. She said she was struck by the difference between the current debates in Washington and the huge support for global health that she’s seen throughout the country.