by Brenda Brown Schoonover
IntraHealth, originally known as Intrah, the Program for International Training in Health, was created in 1979 to train health workers and enhance the skills and champion health workers in overseas countries in areas where they are most needed. Intrah grew out of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) cooperative agreement with the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC).
Much of IntraHealth International’s success in global development is due to its President and CEO, Pape Amadou Gaye, who is stepping down after 16 years heading the organization. I first met Pape Gaye in the late 1990s, when he was Regional Director for Intrah’s West and North Africa programs in Lome, Togo, where I was U.S. Ambassador.
Pape was appointed President and CEO of IntraHealth in 2004 after Intrah separated from UNC and was incorporated into an independent, stand-alone non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) renamed IntraHealth International. He is very proud of the fact that since he took the helm, IntraHealth’s budget has grown from $18 million to $115 million. Among its donors are USAID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Gates Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation. The organization also gets support from the French, Canadian, Dutch, and British governments for its work in Francophone West Africa.
IntraHealth is currently present in over 25 countries and over the years has worked in more than 100 countries. According to Pape, the NGO has thrived in the last few years, establishing itself as a leader in the area of Human Resources for Health. IntraHealth is currently responding to the shifting paradigm in global development including the push for localization by its major donors and the increasing search for more sustainable approaches to development, including market-based solutions.
In 2017, IntraHealth entered into an affiliation with Development Alternative Incorporated (DAI), a 50-year-old development organization and one of USAID’s largest contractors working in areas such as agriculture, governance, security, education and private sector development. In a recent interview, Pape described the move as “a bold strategic partnership between a non-profit and a for- profit enabling both entities to broaden their global health initiatives and amplify their impact. Working together, taking advantage of DAI’s scale, we will be better positioned to pursue our shared vision of a better world where everyone has access to the health care they need to thrive.”
In 2000, the Millennium Summit of the United Nations produced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce extreme poverty and improve lives around the world. Over the years IntraHealth has focused mainly on four of the eight established goals: promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health care, and malaria and HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
Pape noted that lately the emphasis has been on non-communicative diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, which are now more prevalent than HIV/AIDS in the countries where IntraHealth works. He observed that these maladies, usually associated with the West, are currently the biggest killers on the African continent.
Some examples of IntraHealth’s development work include:
– Senegal, combating hypertension where it is the fifth leading cause of death;
– Guatemala, establishing “Peer Support Groups” to enhance the quality of lives of those living with HIV/AIDS;
– Bangladesh, achieving significant success in improving maternal and newborn health;
– Uganda, strengthening systems to improve the quality of and access to health services; and
– Ethiopia, coordinating with the Ministry of Health on digital health activities.
Peace Corps Influence
Pape Amadou Gaye was born in Dakar, Senegal. His path to IntraHealth and work in global development includes his long affiliation with the United States Peace Corps (PC), starting with a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) who was his next door neighbor in Dakar.
Pape’s more in-depth contact with the agency started as a high school student when he took a summer job as an office clerk during a Peace Corps training program in Dakar. The following summer, then a university student, he returned as a language instructor in French and his native language, Wolof. Eventually Pape became the language coordinator. While working for the Peace Corps in Dakar from 1970-1975 he met Irene McLaughlin, a Peace Corps Volunteer. They were married in 1975.
After studies at the University of Dakar, City College in Santa Barbara, and the University of California, Pape Gaye was a consultant for the Peace Corps conducting training of trainers programs in several countries in Africa. Pape also worked as a consultant for the Centers for Disease Control during the “Combating Childhood Communicable Diseases CCCD” program.
Challenges, Rewards and Highlights
Operating a non-profit organization has its challenges, including being at the mercy of its donors and meeting the fundraising goals needed to support the program and commitments. Another is striking the balance between running a non-profit organization and managing a business. Some of the most dedicated health workers and managers attracted to the field can also be altruistic and mission-driven, operating differently from those in the profit-driven cooperate world.
Pape speaks of the gratification that “comes from making the world a healthier place, cutting extreme poverty and reducing maternal and child mortality” – and he has the statistics to prove it. One example he cites is the decreasing mortality rate on Cape Verde, “where the average woman will now live to be 80”. He noted tremendous strides worldwide in HIV/AIDS treatment and resources and is pleased that IntraHealth is recognized as a part of that effort.
IntraHealth has done a significant amount of work in promoting awareness and support for combating the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa and was involved in solving the problem in every affected country in 2014. This includes Pape Gaye’s November 2014 testimony before the Senate Relations Committee on Sub-Saharan Africa on the Ebola Crisis. He is proud of the fact that Time Magazine named health workers “Person of the year” in 2014 for averting the Ebola crisis.
Pape told me he cherishes his longevity and leadership role that has helped IntraHealth grow more than six-fold during his tenure. He built a cadre of international health-worker- leaders, a few who have been with the organization “a long time” and have helped IntraHealth become recognized as a leader in global health and develop a distinctive brand.
“Where Global Health is a Priority”
Having IntraHealth headquartered in Chapel Hill, “where global health is a priority,” allows for excellent working relationships within the North Carolina Research Triangle including the UNC’s Schools of Public Health, Nursing and Pharmacy.
IntraHealth also has considerable coordination with Duke University, in particular Duke’s Fistula Program in Mali. Mr. Gaye also serves on the Duke Advisory Board on Global Health.
Annual Switchpoint Conference
IntraHealth’s annual Switchpoint Conference was launched in 2012 to demonstrate that global health requires all sectors of involvement — environment, entertainment, and education — to address global health issues. The conference attracts hundreds of attendees from around the world to discuss “big ideas for the greater global good where humanitarian, innovation, global health and technology collide”.
Last August, in collaboration with the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS Malaria and TB and the Japan Center for International Exchange, IntraHealth held a version of a Switchpoint gathering in Shibuya, a special ward in Tokyo, Japan. The focus was on inspiring stories and health challenges in Africa.
Continuing in Public Health
While Pape Gaye is leaving the President and CEO positions, he will stay as President Emeritus to help IntraHealth prepare for the future. One of his goals is to work on a center in Senegal and concentrate on West Africa.
Pape told me that his father wanted him to be a doctor, but would be happy to see him in the public health field. I am certain there are an overwhelming number of people grateful for the path Pape Gaye has chosen – thousands who may not know him personally, but, have nevertheless benefitted from his leadership and commitment to improving global health. In the words of a Wolof proverb, “Nit, nit ay garabam” — “the best medicine for a person is another person.”
Brenda Brown Schoonover is a retired Foreign Service Officer and former Ambassador to Togo. Prior to her Foreign Service career, she held several positions with the Peace Corps: a charter member, having served as a volunteer in the Philippines at the inception of the agency; Associate Director in Tanzania; and, Director of the Corps School Partnership Program in Washington. Among her affiliations are: Member of the Board of Directors of American Diplomacy Publications; President of the UNC Woman’s Club and former ex officio member of UNC’s Global Studies Advisory Board.