Dr. Alayne Adams chats about her path and role as Director of the Global Health Program


Published: 31May2021

Dr. Alayne Adams, Director of the Global Health Program and Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine, grew up in a small town in New Brunswick where, “everything seemed possible.” Dr. Adams’ educational background reflects her passion for reaching across disciplines. She completed her undergraduate degree in Political Philosophy and Developmental Economics with as many elective courses in English Literature and Art History as her program would allow. Upon graduation, she left Canada as part of a vanguard of volunteers supporting the rollout of Botswana’s junior community secondary school system. “These years were formative in myriad ways requiring resourcefulness and patience and providing hands-on learning about complexity, culture and community,” she recalls. A recipient of the Commonwealth Scholarship, she completed an MSc in Human Nutrition at the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in addition to a PhD in Public Health. She then pursued her postdoctoral work at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dr. Adams knew the importance of global solidarity from a young age as her parents were founding members of Amnesty International in Canada. “Throughout my growing-up, former prisoners of conscience would pass through our home, sharing remarkable stories of resistance and persecution,” she says. “Following my undergraduate degree, I was desperate to get into the real world of the global majority. Lived experiences in Botswana and Mali were fundamental in shaping my career interests in the social determinants of health inequities and propelled my post-graduate education and research in this direction.” Dr. Adams recalls her time at Harvard being particularly influential as she was in the company of scholars at the frontiers of Global Health.

Dr. Adams’ first academic job was at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. “I juggled three young children, a penchant for competitive running, and a global research portfolio,” she shares. “A move to Geneva provided an opportunity to rethink balance, and I took on the role of Executive Director of the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and HIV/AIDS.” This independent, time-limited initiative engaged over 200 policymakers, practitioners, community leaders and scholars from more than a dozen countries in evidence-informed advocacy efforts to improve the well-being of children, families and communities affected by HIV and AIDS.

From 2010 to 2016, Dr. Adams lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where she held the position of Senior Social Scientist at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b), a renowned international population health research centre. “I started working in Bangladesh at the suggestion of my post-doc supervisor, Lincoln Chen, whose ties to BRAC and icddr,b dated back to the War of Liberation,” she says. “I have seen the country grow and develop over my career in astonishing ways, ranging from remarkable improvements in education and health indicators, to rates of urbanization that put the country at the top of global rankings in terms of traffic congestion and poor air quality.” In 2004, she helped co-found BRAC University’s James P. Grant School of Public Health and has designed and delivered courses through its flagship Master of Public Health program ever since.

Dr. Adams joined McGill’s Department of Family Medicine in 2019 as an Associate Professor and also became the Director of the Global Health Program. “I feel privileged to take on this role, and hope to engage clinicians, students and faculty in defining our Department’s value-added in the Global Health space. We are living in an extraordinary time where Global Health values and solutions are all the more poignant and important. This is our opportunity,” she notes. “I was drawn to this department given the disciplinary breadth of its faculty and its shared concern for equity and patient/community engagement in primary healthcare. Since joining, I have been exploring the intersections between global-focused work on the social determinants of health equity and responsive health systems, and the challenges of healthcare access in multicultural Montreal.”

In January 2021, the “Global Primary Care (GPC) Delivery Series” was initiated as a partnership between the School of Population and Global Health (SPGH) and the Department of Family Medicine’s Global Health Program. The Series seeks to engage faculty and students from the respective departments, and the broader McGill and Montreal community in critical discourse around local and global innovations in primary healthcare delivery. The webinar series invites speakers to share their experiences while the workshops permit guided informal discussions around webinar themes and preselected readings. The final webinar is on June 2and it is a “fireside chat” about the adaptability of Public Health Care (PHC) models from humanitarian and ethnographic research perspectives. The workshop will review themes emerging from the series and engage participants in discussions about how to move forward.

“The organizational force behind the Series is Brianna Cheng, whose talent, energy and commitment are second to none,” says Dr. Adams. “As we sharpen the Department’s Global Health strategy, relevance is key, as is collaboration within and beyond McGill. The opportunity to partner with the SPGH serves to bring our faculty together with a view to strengthening ties in our respective research and teaching programs. Students and clinicians have similarly appreciated the chance for focused reflection and learning from experts within and beyond the Department.” The response to the series has been very positive, its success highlights the demand for knowledge-sharing initiatives, and the value of animating PHC principles in addressing health disparities exposed and amplified by the pandemic. Recordings and summaries are available on the Department of Family Medicine’s website.


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