She is empathetic, passionate and focuses on the big picture when it comes to public health. Meet Dr. Laura Kann, physician, research scholar and an adviser to RFHA Inc., who has proudly contributed to the public health sector for decades. Her goal is to provide health services to anyone in need across the world, and she hopes to continue to help “heal the world”.
RFHA is a Rotary Treasure
“RFHA is a Rotary treasure. It changes lives. There are a lot of great things that Rotary does, but there are only a few that can be called an actual treasure. RFHA is one of them,” says Dr. Laura Kann, RFHA Inc. adviser. “What it does for the people is beautiful and the impact is amazing.”
Laura worked with the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for 30 years, but she still felt there was something missing from the work she was doing. “I got hired by the CDC directly after school and moved to Atlanta. It was a perfect match for my skills and abilities, and I believe that there could not have been a better job for me — but what I didn’t get from the CDC was direct, hands-on experience,” she says.
After dedicating so many years working for public health on an international front, Laura couldn’t wait to work with the people at ground level. “I grew up in a Rotarian family. My father was a Rotarian for over 40 years, and I joined the Rotary family in 2004. One day my dad came across an article about Marion Bunch in the Rotary magazine and forwarded it to me. He knew I was looking to be a part of this family, so he told me to get in touch with her,” she says.
The Rotary Journey
Reminiscing about her first meeting with Marion, Laura says, “I called up Marion and asked her if I could come and see her. She invited me the following weekend. I knew about her interest in working to help people with HIV and, during that time, the program that I was working with in CDC was also AIDS-focused. We had a lot of things to talk about. She ended up being my Rotary sponsor and, a few years down the line, I started helping RFHA with consulting.
“One of the things that attracted me towards Rotary was that this organization was into public health. I was working for public health on an international level, but I wasn’t working on the ground. Providing direct services to the people was what I wanted to do, and Rotary gave me that opportunity,” she says.
After working with high-level government officials for years, Laura finally got the chance she’d been waiting for. “As part of the Rotary Polio Mission, I got an opportunity to travel to India. With the CDC, I was only working with high-level government officials; with Rotary, I was administering vaccines to babies, learning about the problems at ground level. The experience was drastically different. Rotary works in a unique way within a country. It works with the people; bringing solutions to the tiniest villages. And this sets it apart from many other NGOs,” Laura says.
What Makes RFHA Different?
Describing the RFHA model, Laura says, “When people ask me what RFHA is, I always say that it is an organization that has a life-changing impact on communities. RFHA’s model is such that it allows Family Health Days to focus on the problem of the moment. Its flexibility helps in addressing the issues that society is dealing with in the present, and this is what makes it so special and impactful.
“It is not a one-size-fits-all kind of model, but RFHA is set up in a way that it can address the needs of every community. One of the keys to the RFHA model is that it uses local people to provide services, which helps in building a bond of trust with the society,” she explains. “Rather than bringing in experts who know nothing about the community and its people, RFHA works closely with locals who can easily reach out to their people.”
Destroying the Stigma
Laura goes on to talk about the stigma attached to AIDS. “One of the best things about RFHA is that it deals with the problems surrounding AIDS and the stigma in a tactful way. The Family Health Day program addresses AIDS along with a range of different health problems, thus reducing the stigma and making people feel that AIDS is not the sole reason they are attending the program,” she says..
“I feel this is the best way to deal with the stigma — address AIDS like another regular health problem and not a stigmatized issue. RFHA’s approach just does that. It doesn’t put big AIDS banners or signs and, by treating it as just another health issue, RFHA has helped spread awareness and has saved many lives.”
Help The World Heal
Having traveled around the world, Laura has been deeply affected by the suffering and struggles she has witnessed. “It breaks my heart. I am incredibly grateful for the life I’ve been gifted with, and I want to give back and help others. The difference between those who have and those who don’t is reflected in the healthcare system — a system that barely exists in some parts of the world,” she says.
“I did a lot of work in Africa when I was working with the CDC. One memory that will forever stay with me was when I noticed that the fancy office buildings would lock up their toilet paper in the cupboards in the evenings and during the weekends; otherwise it would be stolen by the people there. I could not believe that this was actually happening.”
In another poignant moment, Laura saw young girls sitting outside the US embassy so that they could study under the light of the street lamp. “These incidents had a huge impact on my mind and made me realize how important it is to be part of an organization like Rotary that can give me an opportunity to give back to the people directly,” says Laura.
Women as public health figures have always played a huge role in improving the safety of our communities. A firm advocate for the idea that public healthcare should be available to anyone in need, Laura hopes to continue working to overcome the obstacles that limit people’s access to healthcare.Share