Mercedes Rumi is the Latin America and Caribbean Regional Manager at The Global Health Network. With her team, she manages a broad portfolio of research capacity and data science strengthening projects. Inspired by her grandfather (a rural doctor), Mercedes completed her higher education at the University of Buenos Aires to study medicine and is a medical doctor by profession.
What inspired you to work in research?
I was inspired by my grandfather, a rural doctor who fought tirelessly to set up institutions to support the most vulnerable populations. I grew up hearing about his initiatives such as children's shelters, the development of a nursing school and the creation of intensive care unit in a Hospital in Carmen de Areco, a small agricultural town in central Argentina where I grew up. So, since I can remember, I have been genuinely motivated by the motto “que nadie venga a ti sin irse mejor y más contento” (no one should come to you without leaving happier) and a strong desire to work for a fairer world.
At the age of seventeen, with hopes of exploring new cultures and understanding other settings outside the rural area where I grew up, I applied for student exchange with the Rotary International Club. I got accepted and studied for a year in a northern town in France at the Collège Charlemagne, where I did not only learn French but built lasting friendships, learnt to adapt to different family life traditions and get to understand a different culture. This was a turning point in my life, and since then, I knew I wanted to continue exploring this path and the idea of working together globally as one to improve outcomes. On my return, out of the passion for the biological sciences and feeling that I should pursue a career of service, I undertook a medical degree at the University of Buenos Aires.
As I progressed through my medical career, I did volunteer work with the International Association of Students in Economics and Business (AIESEC) NGO. I moved to and lived for a couple of months in Nairobi, Kenya, working as coordinator of the "Healthy and Happy" programme in the Mathare Slum.
There I attended daily schools to teach kids from 5 to 12 years old how to prevent cholera, HIV/AIDS, syphilis, typhoid fever, and malaria. Similarly, I also travelled to Medellín, Colombia, where I participated in the Health and Hygiene Prevention Practices Programme in 2018.
Living and working in these low resource settings was eye-opening because I saw more extreme neediness than I had seen so far in Argentina. Further to these two experiences, and with a growing interest in understanding how health systems work elsewhere, their differences and similarities, it is that I applied and obtained a scholarship from the University of Buenos Aires to live for one semester in 2020 in Norway at the University of Oslo. I took classes under the “Woman, Reproduction and Child” programme. This was a marvellous experience as it helped me understand how respect, trust, clear priorities and equity are the basis of it all. It was at the University of Oslo that I attended Global Health lectures for the first time, and that was my second turning point. It was exactly what I imagined, working to improve health research and care on a large global scale. From 2018 to 2020, I participated as a research intern in a "NACER" (Being Born) programme as part of my continuous search to understand my role in improving health outcomes. We conducted comparative studies to observe the development trends as well as behavioural and cognitive outcomes of babies born to mothers who had suffered stress during pregnancy.
What is the most inspiring aspect of your job?
Within my work, and with the course of the pandemic, I have seen hands-on that there is a general interest among health workers to get involved in research. What is needed is to create a research environment/space and bring the resources closer to the teams. I am confident that Argentina as well as the other southern countries, can generate their own evidence and improve their health care and systems. More than ever, it is a matter of strengthening this so that we can prevent the next pandemic. I want to contribute to my region and know that my motivations, strengths, and abilities will serve to further a better world.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I get a lot of satisfaction working with a global team, with people from all parts of the world, and I enjoy that between the meetings we can always chat a little about what is typical from our country or discuss interesting cultural differences.
How do you see your career progressing in the next few years?
Motivation makes me work well and enthusiastically. I am not sure exactly where I will be in five years, but I hope to be in a place as The Global Health Network, where my ideas to make the world a little bit better can be turned into action!