Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, USA
Public Health Foundation of India, Delhi, India
The George Institute for Global Health
Having had the privilege of traveling and living in many parts of the world while growing up, Devaki became aware of the vast differences in the condition and position of people across and within countries. These differences were sometimes exciting, and at other times, irksome, particularly when it came to the issue of health. On the one hand, health can be a great leveler of differences – anyone can catch a cold! But how a clothes vendor on a Beijing street handles this cold as compared to a homeless person on a Delhi street, a professional artist in a Kuala Lumpur theatre, or a teacher in an elementary school in Kabul is shaped by myriad factors, both within and beyond the health system of each city and country.
The desire to see and understand these factors, drawing from the experiences and perspectives of others is what drew Devaki to research. Health, as she sees it, is the embodiment of the privileges and oppressions that individuals and societies face. Public health research as a profession, is therefore ultimately about leveraging privilege and redressing oppressions in pursuit of social justice, using rigour and working in collaboration with a range of stakeholders – who often have divergent priorities.
Devaki benefitted greatly from her public health training in Johns Hopkins, alongside opportunities for mentorship as an NIH predoctoral, Fogarty, and postdoctoral scholar living and working in a number of Low and Middle Income countries. As a member of the Technical Secretariat of India’s High Level Expert Group on Universal Health Coverage, she began to learn first-hand the complexities involved in health systems reform, including the role research can play in shaping it. At this juncture, the order is tall: addressing, on the one hand the mandate of the Sustainable Development Goals, while negotiating the intricacies involved with tackling diseases of marginalization and deprivation, of modernization and work, marginalization and modernization as well as emerging social and economic patterns.
This kind of work is both global and local: Devaki has supported the World Health Organisation’s efforts to build capacity in monitoring of health inequalities across regions, while also synthesizing evidence on the health-seeking of the urban poor in various Indian cities to help shape the National Urban Health Mission. Her research has given her exposure to the health systems of numerous states including Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, and Nagaland, where she has striven to generate knowledge relevant to policymaking.
As an India Alliance intermediate investigator, Devaki will build on these experiences and expertise to assess the magnitudes of inequalities related to UHC-linked health reform in an Indian state, and then use participatory, qualitative methods to assess the mechanisms underlying these inequalities. She has designed the project to involve mixed methods, continuous partnership with state health departments and mentorship of emerging health equity scholars. Her work will be guided by seasoned researcher and sponsor Vivekanand Jha from the George Institute for Global Health, HLEG chairperson and mentor Srinath Reddy from the Public Health Foundation of India as well as collaborator and equity specialist Ahmad Reza Hosseinpoor from the World Health Organisation. She will also be collaborating with Prof Sundari Ravindran of the Achutha Menon Centre for Health System Sciences in Trivandrum, Kerala.
Her mentors from her school days onward reinforced in her what a privilege and a responsibility it is to be a researcher, particularly in the realm of health, when motivated by the cause of equity and social justice. Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance is among the rare supporters of research that resonate with such motivations, allow wide collaborations and deeply focused work. Devaki considers her affiliation with the India Alliance a similar privilege and responsibility.