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First Days in Beijing

Twenty-five years of analyzing the US healthcare market, two months independently studying Chinese culture since my acceptance as a 2012 Global Health Fellow, two weeks embedded in the New York office of GBCHealth, and five days immersed in a Beijing neighborhood have led me to this moment of exploration and adventure. I am working with GBCHealth for three months to establish a diabetes awareness and prevention initiative in China. It is mind-boggling that 92 million Chinese have diabetes (and over half are undiagnosed). I will be the first of four Global Health Fellows over the next two years to work on this project, so I am building the foundation for those who will follow.

GBCHealth is a coalition of over 200 companies dedicated to improving the health of communities around the world. I began my fellowship at its NYC headquarters, helping to train its corporate member relationship managers in the following: (1) to systematically gather information on which members have a strong foothold in China; (2) to gauge members’ interest in supporting the expanded mandate to diabetes; and (3) to catalogue the assets and resources that members would be willing to share in this effort. While I am away in China for two and a half months, those relationship managers will be gathering data to help identify willing coalition partners. When I return to the NYC office and to my final two weeks of my fellowship, I will analyze the results of the gathered data and come up with possible partners for different initiatives.

This photo was taken my first day with Michael Shiu, Anna Feng (program coordinator) and myself. We are in front of the logo; this company provides office space to GBCHealth

With this diabetes awareness initiative in China, there are stakeholders who are mutually suspicious of the motivations of each other – the NGOs are wary of corporations, the government is wary of the motivations of the NGOs and the corporations, providers are suspicious of the government motives while eager for more support, etc. etc. GBCHealth already begins to bridge this morass by being an NGO that is a coalition of corporations and has the “guangxi” (connections and relations) with the movers and shakers in government and companies. I have been here for six days and am now settled into an apartment on the ground floor of a sixteen-story apartment building. I have not seen any other ex-pats in the area. I find that jetlag has made the middle of the nights much more productive. My morning routines include watching the Chinese flag be raised at 7:15 at the high school outside my window while students are doing wind sprints. I have traded in coffee for chrysanthemum blossom tea. Michael Shiu, GBCHealth’s VP for the China Regional Office, has been extraordinarily generous with his time in showing me restaurants and places to shop for little necessities. He has set up a comprehensive work plan for the next five weeks – beginning with a week each at the public health sector, an internship at the top diabetes hospital in Beijing talking to physicians, patients, committees, down to Guangzhou to see how workplace training was implemented for a hepatitis B campaign and to understand how results were monitored and evaluated, with the Ministry of Health and the local health ministries, and finally with Project Hope to see how a current diabetes program is working. This whirl of meetings should form the basis for a strategy of initiatives to be rolled out. I will keep you informed of the adventure.

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