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Boston-based Partners in Health receives $15 million from Wagner Foundation

The Wagner Foundation’s gift “will have a remarkable and sustained effect on the patients we serve and the care we provide,” said Gary Gottlieb, Partners in Health’s chief executive.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File

Partners in Health, a Boston-based international medical charity, has received a $15 million gift to support its work in developing nations.

The gift, from the Boston-based Wagner Foundation, is the one of the largest donations in Partners in Health’s 31-year history.

The organization said it would use the grant to measure its impact in reducing maternal and childhood deaths in the 10 countries in the developing world where it has a sustained commitment. By studying its model of community-based health care, Partners in Health hopes to improve services for rural and resource-strapped populations.

“It’s an internal investment that helps the people on the ground,” Dr. Gary Gottlieb, chief executive of Partners in Health, said Monday. “We’re measuring the impact of the work and . . . following the population to understand our impact. That’s pretty critical if we’re going to change policies.”


Charlotte Wagner, founder and chief executive of the Wagner Foundation, called the donation “an investment in the communities where Partners in Health is working, and an investment in a model that I hope will be replicated elsewhere.”

Wagner serves on Partners in Health’s board and has visited many of the organization’s projects, including in Rwanda, Haiti, and Peru.

The two organizations have worked together since the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where Partners In Health assisted survivors.

The 2003 book “Mountains Beyond Mountains” documented the earlier work in Haiti of Partners in Health’s cofounder Dr. Paul Farmer.

“The gift was always designed to be a more sophisticated way of measuring direct effects and more indirect effects,” Farmer said by phone Monday from Haiti.

Instead of temporarily sending clinicians to an epidemic in an emergency response model, Partners in Health works longer term with a country’s government to intervene in a specific district. Once there, the charity embeds to train local clinicians, build health centers, and fortify district hospitals.


In expanding that model, Partners In Health has increasingly focused on training young clinicians who will stay in their countries to provide care. In 2014, after developing a teaching hospital in Haiti after the earthquake, the group started building the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda. This year, the second group of masters’ students graduated. Next year, the first class of medical students will enroll.

“We should be able to sustain that kind of care in ways that are efficient but shouldn’t be seen as a luxury,” Gottlieb said.

In response to the Ebola crisis, the group sent clinicians to rural districts in Sierra Leone and Liberia, two countries badly affected by the outbreak. The team stayed for months, despite great personal risk.

“What’s the cost of not having a safety net? Well, Ebola is a good answer to that question,” Farmer said. “That’s one exciting part of the Wagner gift — we can take on the need for metrics without submitting to the tyranny of cheap metrics.”

Now, Partners in Health is developing an open-source health record for Liberia , which the group intends to expand with the grant from the Wagner Foundation.

“In Liberia, there are 45 doctors for the whole country. That’s the equivalent for about seven doctors in Boston,” Gottlieb said. “We need to have, in the hands of community health workers, specific tools to measure what it is we’re seeing every day.”

Amelia Nierenberg can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ajnierenberg.