UMass Boston News

Interview with Courtenay Sprague, MGS Global Health Policy Specialist

McCormack Graduate School | May 08, 2012


In September, Associate Professor Courtenay Sprague joins the Department of Conflict Resolution, Global Governance and Human Security at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies.

Currently at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sprague is no stranger to Boston; she earned two master's degrees in international relations and resource and environmental management from Boston University. 

Her applied policy research in health policy, HIV/AIDS, and development "seeks to improve the quality of life of individuals, especially poorer populations, by expanding the capabilities people have to construct a life of dignity and flourishing."

In a recent interview, she talked about her research and what contributes to her success. We also learn what she does for fun when not teaching.

What excites you most about taking on this job?

Two things. First, I am really excited about the explicit link between global health and development that is part of this role, especially with its location in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security and Global Governance. Often what is billed as “global health and development,” is actually international public health. There is not a true focus or understanding of development, what it entails, and how health and development are fundamentally inter-connected. If you want to understand health challenges, you need to understand the wider context of development in which health is rooted: human development, social development, sustainable development. I believe this understanding is central to the task of improving the health of individuals and populations.

Second, I am excited to be looking at health through a global lens and perspective. This is a wonderful opportunity for UMass Boston to be part of a larger movement and conversation around global health as a social justice concern, and global health as an emerging, trans-disciplinary field.

What keeps you enthused about your research?

I engage directly with grave social problems, such as lack of access to HIV treatment and maternal mortality. These health problems are solvable and changeable. There is a very important interplay between research, policy and practice. When we improve the quality of health care delivery for people accessing health services, we can often improve their very quality of life. This is a huge motivator for me.  

How do you see your work shaping public policy?

My health research is fully applied. When we talk about health and development challenges, we are talking about the real conditions in which people live and make choices— choices that are often constrained by circumstance, particularly for people in poorer settings or countries.

My job is to use the evidence base of research to identify changes that can be made at the level of national, regional and state levels, but also in health facilities. My colleagues and I have done this, internationally, with law and policy concerning retrogressive health measures in public hospitals that negatively impact the health of HIV positive women and children, for example.

My plan is to continue this international work, and also include a domestic focus on health disparities in the US, in which UMass Boston faculty members in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences have particular expertise. I’m looking forward to working with colleagues in both colleges.

What is the #1 skill or practice that has contributed to your success?

Discipline. We have to be disciplined about our work, about committing ourselves to the task— whether it is teaching, research or community engagement— in order to realize the fruits of our labor.

When you are not working, what do you do for fun?

Practicing yoga, seeing friends, running, cooking for and sharing a meal with loved ones. These are the things that energize me. It seems that we all need to create pauses that help us remember what we are “about” and why it is we do what we do.

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