While social distancing, handwashing, and mask wearing, according to experts, are the only measures we currently have to combat the spread of the coronavirus, what happens in countries where these tactics are not feasible or even possible?
This is the type of question, albeit with much more complexity, that Dan Hartman ’84 and his team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are faced with every day. Hartman, who serves as the director of Integrated Development, leads a team that provides technical expertise in drug and diagnostic development, where the goal is to provide high-impact health products and services to the world’s poorest communities.
Hartman, who received his medical degree from Wayne State University and has extensive management and pharmaceutical experience, joined the foundation team in 2012. His focus is the production of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics that will improve the lives of the most underserved populations in the world.
Preventable diseases like malaria and tuberculosis are among the top causes of death in most low-income countries. “Half a million people die of malaria every year, mostly children, and we don’t hear about it,” said Hartman.
This is a problem Hartman and his team are addressing. Similarly, rotavirus sickens and kills many children worldwide despite the existence of an effective vaccine, but affordability is an issue.
Hartman has spent the last eight years traveling around the world visiting underserved populations, where he has witnessed many of these significant health care challenges.
“There is a massive shortage of health care workers in these countries,” he said. “I’ve visited hospitals where there are two people sharing one bed. … We have hospitals here that have more ICU beds than entire countries in Africa.”
While these situations are difficult to witness, Hartman is grateful for the opportunity as it motivates him to work for change and makes his work more effective. “You need to recognize the capacity and capability in order to make good decisions.”
In fact, decision-making has become central to his role as he is faced with limitations in the manufacture of drugs, challenges in regulatory issues, and demanding analysis in quantitative sciences.
Most recently, throughout the pandemic, Hartman has focused on ways to prevent coronavirus infections. “Their hospitals can’t handle the level of severity that has been prevalent in other countries,” he said. “Their countries don’t have ICUs or ventilators, and when a vaccine or treatment becomes available, how do we scale up the manufacturing to get it to the poorest populations?”
Involving himself in this kind of deep thinking and decision-making causes Hartman to reflect on his Calvin background.
“While I was very well-prepared in the technical sciences, looking back it was the core classes in religion, philosophy, and history where I learned how to think,” said Hartman. “Professors in these classes really made you think deeply; that was one of the best skills I learned at Calvin.”
Through a career that has taken him from a fellowship in pulmonary medicine to research and development in some of the country’s leading drug companies, Hartman finds himself grateful for where he is now.
“I am so fortunate in what I get to do every day,” he said. “I love to develop products that can help people. I’m working harder than I ever have in my life, but I have the energy for it; we’re making a difference for the most underserved people on the planet.”