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Peter Drobac ’96

Peter Drobac has played an important role in improving health care options for critically ill people in the world’s most rural and impoverished communities, from Haiti to Peru and now Rwanda.

Libby Blanchette
March 03, 2014

UW Major: Psychology, L&S
Age: 39 | Boston, Massachusetts
Executive Director, Partners In Health-Rwanda

Peter Drobac has played an important role in improving health care options for critically ill people in the world's most rural and impoverished communities, from Haiti to Peru and now Rwanda.

A skilled internist, pediatrician and infectious-disease specialist, Drobac's passion for medicine is equaled by his determination to bring comprehensive health systems to resource-limited areas. Although the challenges of working in global health are constantly changing, he finds the rewards to be unlike any other field of medicine.

"Global health gets to the very core of what it means to be a physician: to serve the sick and the poor, and to link that service to research, teaching and advocacy," he says.

Following graduation from the UW, Drobac spent time in Tanzania working as a children's rights advocate — an experience that would change his life forever.

"I met hundreds of kids living on the street, many because they had lost one or more parents to AIDS. Some were themselves HIV positive," recalls Drobac. "I saw children starving, dying, beaten, burned and jailed, all for the grave crime of being poor."

Despite the development of an antiretroviral treatment for HIV, it was, at that time, deemed too expensive and too complicated for Africa. Fueled by this injustice, Drobac returned to the United States to start medical school, determined to make a difference.

Today, he serves as executive director of Partners In Health (PIH) in Rwanda. This world-renowned nonprofit organization is dedicated to improving health for the poor and to strengthening the public health system in Rwanda in particular. By working with the local government, Drobac helps to provide comprehensive health care and social services to nearly one million people across three rural districts.

Drobac also chairs the board of directors of the Rwanda Biomedical Center, the agency responsible for implementing the country's national health sector. Likewise, he co-leads the Population Health Implementation and Training Partnership — a large research program focused on improving various aspects of health care in Rwanda's rural areas. When he's not in Rwanda, Drobac serves as an associate physician in the Division of Global Health Equity at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. He also teaches global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School.

"My UW experience brought me from state-of-the-art research labs to remote rural communities in Tanzania," he says. "I learned psychology, Swahili and semiotics. The UW exposed me to activism, social justice and the importance of service, all of which have informed my life's trajectory ever since."

In His Own Words

What do you miss most about campus?

The Union Terrace in the summer, of course.

What is your proudest UW achievement?

I hope that it has yet to come.

What advice would you offer graduating seniors?

Here I will borrow from the great writer George Saunders: “As a goal in life, you could do worse than: try to be kinder.”

What are you reading now?

Improvised Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic by Julie Livingston; The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer; Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis.

Who is your hero?

My remarkable wife, Neo Tapela.

What do you do in your free time?

Free time?

What is your guilty pleasure?

I may have much to be embarrassed about, but I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

What would you be if you hadn’t chosen your current career path?

Professional bowler, Olympic curler or architect.

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