MGH Global OB-GYN Newsletter

From Academics to Advocacy and Action

September 2020

Massachusetts General Hospital                    Vincent Program in Global OB/GYN

In a fascinating way, the COVID-19 pandemic has made our worlds both infinitely smaller and infinitely larger. Physical distancing, travel bans, closed borders, and curfews across the world have shrunk our physical social circles to just those in our immediate households. At the same time, our rapid shift to the virtual meeting space has made previously in-person and local-only conferences and meetings available to global audiences across time and space. We have been forced to become more intimate with fewer, and yet we have expanded our connections in ways we didn’t think possible in just the space of a few short months. Violette Perrotte thoughtfully explores this seeming contradiction, but perhaps what is just one long continuum, between the individual and the world at large in her reflections shared below and reminds us all that impact can be near and far, small and large all at the same time. It also calls to mind the starfish story, which imparts the power of working to make change in whatever small way we can. --Adeline Boatin

Adeline Boatin, MD, MPH, is a Global Health Fellow and Clinical Instructor in the Department of OB/GYN at Massachusetts General Hospital. She has a particular clinical and research interest in obstetric surgical outcomes in low resource centers and introducing quality measures and quality improvement in this area.

Notes from the Field

"Go Home and Love Your Family":
Complexities of Individuality and Plurality in Public Health

Violette Perrotte

Author Violette Perrotte and her grandmother, proudly displaying her "This is what a feminist looks like" T-shirt.

A new generation of public health professionals: 
Classmates in the Master of Public Health program at the Harvard T.C. Chan School of Public Health  
(Author Violette Perrotte -- 2nd row from top, 6th from right).

Author Violette Perrotte teaching female anatomy to a group of refugee women at La Maison des Femmes.

The biggest challenge of my Public Health career was trying to teach my grandmother how to use the internet.

I assume many people have once attempted to help a loved one use some sort of technology, and if it went anything like with my grandmother, there were tears, there were threats of being taken off the will, and the phrase “you don’t love me enough to have patience” was muttered more than once.

I failed of course, and my grandmother still uses her landline to call the United States from France where she lives. It took me a long time to realize that this was a Public Health failure. Years later, I came across a quote from Mother Theresa that said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” I was instantly brought back to this moment in my grandmother’s kitchen, throwing her newly purchased smartphone on the table, thinking, whatever, not having internet won’t change her life.

I got into Public Health because I liked the idea of having a large-scale impact. I wanted to work on issues that affect thousands, millions, billions and develop solutions that could potentially help entire populations. Individuality in health was better left to physicians and nurses, I thought.  

In graduate school however, the dichotomy I had built between individual impact and large-scale solutions was shattered. At the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, these two worlds, that of the micro and that of the macro, came together. My classmates reminded me every day of our ability to both tackle large health problems that affect the bigger number, while paying attention to the individuals around us, and putting their health and well-being at the forefront too.

My friend Rachel, for example, spent her practicum working on a large research project on Female Genital Mutilation in Somaliland, and then hosted one of the Somali nurses she met there while she was doing a summer program at Harvard the following year.

At Harvard, I realized the importance of the small gestures within the larger purpose. In my own field of Gender-Based Violence, I had always worked to address broad inequalities and human rights violation, and yet I realized I often failed to ask my own friends if they felt safe in their relationships. In class, I worked on papers that looked at how technology could improve the health of many in developing countries, yet did not try hard enough to teach my own grandmother how to use a technology that could have made her life simpler and safer.

Similarly, when the coronavirus outbreak started, I followed the world map tracking cases and reading articles about the spread in China, Iran, Italy, until I got a call from my mother telling me she had tested positive. It reminded me of the main lesson I had learned at HSPH: Concern for the plural does not have to – and indeed should not - come at the expense of the individual. 

So, as public health professionals set out to tackle this world crisis and continue developing large programs to address other public health issues, let us not forget to remind our moms to get a mammogram, and our girlfriends a pap smear. Let’s remember to ask our dads if they checked their eyesight recently, and help our grandmothers set up automatic medication refill.

Let us feel the grand purpose of Public Health, but also, go home and love our family.

Author Biography:

Violette Perrotte, MPH, is a public health professional who has dedicated her career to fighting against Gender-Based Violence on the African continent, in France, and in the U.S. Her previous professional experiences focused on intimate partner violence in young couples, access to sexual and reproductive health, and Female Genital Mutilation care for migrant women in Europe. Before starting her masters at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, she was the program manager for La Maison des Femmes (House of Women), France's first multidisciplinary health center dedicated to vulnerable women.

Interesting Facts

COVID will likely be viewed as a catalyst for the transformation of medical education.

A recent study found no meaningful association between the number of in-person health care visits and the rate of COVID-19 infection in obstetrical patients.

News Bulletin

Top US officials told CDC to soften coronavirus testing guidelines.

CDC's changed testing guidelines could lead to less testing, experts fear.


Honor and Remembrance

Grief is both highly personal and powerfully communal. To fully touch one’s loss requires a space of safety and stability. It requires looking back at a tragedy that is in the past. As we enter the ninth month of pandemic, loss is ongoing and nowhere near being over. At the time of this writing, 857,794 people worldwide and 184,697 Americans have died. The numbers are too huge to take in. Our national mourning is complicated by the stress and loss of livelihoods, housing, healthcare, and public gatherings along with the counterpoint of anger and political division.

Yet to heal and repair the ruptures to community from these losses, we must mourn and forgive. We cannot wait until the pandemic ends. We must work together now to honor, remember, and work to fix the structural wrongs that have caused so much suffering.
--Annekathryn Goodman

Annekathryn Goodman, MD, MPH, is a gynecologic oncologist at MGH, a member of the MGH Global Disaster Response team, and Director of Strength & Serenity (S&S): MGH Global Initiative to End Gender-Based Violence.

Online COVID Memorial: "A place to share remembrances of loved ones lost to the coronavirus pandemic, and to encourage public health measures that can prevent more deaths in the future."
(link available by searching "")

Uruguayan architect designs the world's first large-scale memorial to the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.

'Racial Inequality May Be As Deadly As COVID-19,' Analysis Finds

Almost 90,000 dead, and no hint of national mourning.

Why are there almost no memorials to the flu of 1918?
(link to New York Times article available by searching for this title online)



Virtual Seminar Series: Gender-Based Violence in Disasters & Humanitarian Settings
Provided by Massachusetts General Hospital, Global Health & Mass General Brigham
Sessions from 12:00-1:00 pm ET on these dates:
  • September 29
  • October 20
  • November 17
  • December 15
For more information and to register:

Virtual Workshop: Forensic Evaluation of Asylum Seekers
Provided by Society of Refugee Healthcare Providers
October 24th and 25th from 12-5 PM (EST) each day.

Register for the course.


Deep thank you for funding support

Karen Johansen and Gardner Hendrie, Al and Diane Kaneb, Vincent Memorial Hospital and Vincent Club, Westwind Foundation, Bank of America Foundation, Wyss Foundation

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