Research Horizons


Envisioning Our Future For Children: Dr. Jim Yong Kim Says We Can Overcome Health Care Inequities

Don’t tell Jim Yong Kim, MD, PhD, that it’s not practical, or even possible, to bring the benefits of modern medicine to poor people. He has been personally involved for years in proving otherwise.

Kim is known by leaders around the world as the former president (2012-2019) of the World Bank Group--one of the largest public sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries.

Kim may be even better known in health care circles as a co-founder (1987) of Partners in Health, a non-profit agency dedicated to the “moral imperative to provide high-quality health care globally to those who need it most.”

Along with co-founders Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, Todd McCormack, and Tom White, Kim helped a fledgling agency build life-transforming programs in Haiti, Peru and other nations to help people overcome antibiotic-resistant tuberculous and survive with HIV/AIDS. During those years and in later roles, Kim has been a powerful voice for bringing down the costs of expensive medications and building community health systems people can trust.

On March 16, 2021, Kim spoke about the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing need for a larger public health workforce in the US and many other nations to kick off the Cincinnati Children’s Envisioning Our Future For Children speaker series.

Becoming prepared for the next pandemic and taking major steps to deal with climate change are the two major issues Kim sees in the future of today’s children. They will be the ones living in 2100 with the consequences of inaction today.

“The time is now to get very serious about the science of health delivery,” Kim says.

While the US excels in the technological skills needed to produce bold new mRNA-based vaccines against COVID-19, it largely failed to ramp up the community-based public health workforces needed to trace down contacts of infected people. Be it targeted local lock-downs and quarantines, deciding where to deploy early batches of vaccine, or being prepared to react to the next possible outbreak of a COVID variant, the US still lacks the “ground game” it needs to protect public health.

The know-how exists, Kim says. He cited a project in Massachusetts that employed more than 3,000 people as contract tracers–a program that helped manage the epidemic while also providing much-needed jobs precisely in the hardest hit places.

A community health focused model of public health also can go beyond pandemic preparedness. It can help expand the reach of much-needed mental health services and provide trusted sources of information for many other preventable conditions.

Kim says he was amazed to hear so many public health leaders in the richest country in the world say solving a problem like contract tracing was simply too complicated, too expensive, or too late. Those were the same excuses he heard years ago in Haiti, when other experts said it would not be practical or sustainable to attempt to save low-income people with tuberculosis through the use of high-cost drug cocktails.

If you haven’t seen it already, we highly recommend watching the 2017 documentary Bending the Arc, available on Netflix, to gain a better understanding of the work conducted by Partners in Health. Also available via this link: Password: farmerpaul1

We offer our deepest thanks to Dr. Kim for engaging in an hour-long discussion with faculty at Cincinnati Children’s and many others who joined us online.

Watch the recording on our YouTube channel

Coming Up Next: 1 pm, April 15

Humanizing Drug Discovery

David Altshuler, MD, PhD

Executive Vice President
Global Research and Chief Scientific Officer
Vertex Pharmaceuticals