June 21, 2022 – Fellow Hematologist from Australia, Eddie Cliff, MPH ’22, is deeply concerned with the well-being of his patients as well as improving health systems as a whole. He is also a published writer for the New York Times and NPR, a Fulbright Scholar, and an advocate for healthy food and sustainability.
I grew up in AustraliaMy grandmother was a nurse and teacher, and my mother was a pediatric neurologist. Neither of them put pressure on me to be interested in medicine, but I have some hands-on experience with a neurologist, gastroenterologist, and primary care physician and have found the combination of interesting problem solving and working with people to my liking.
I fell in love with hematology by accident. I had planned to be an endocrinologist and work clinically on diabetes and obesity, with a parallel career in public health focusing on non-communicable diseases and nutrition policy. Then, I was included in a hematology rotation, where I treated patients with myeloma and lymphoma with CAR T-Cell therapies—their immune cells are genetically engineered to fight cancer—and became fascinated by the science. With blood cancers and other blood disorders like sickle cell disease, you’re dealing with complex illnesses, with exciting treatments that affect people from all walks of life. Hematology also has a strong human side. When I give a patient a test result with good or bad news, I think carefully about how the news will be disseminated, and for each patient, we design a personalized treatment plan that includes the values and priorities that are most important to them.
Working in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemicShe had difficult conversations in both the COVID-19 wards and, later, with leukemia patients about end-of-life decisions while family members were denied hospitalization under the COVID policy. I wrote about these dilemmas in an article in JAMA Oncology titled “A Shared Decision Is a Decision Split in Half.” Australia’s strategy to confront the Corona virus was brilliant, among the best in the world, and it saved tens of thousands of lives. That’s not to say there weren’t unintended consequences that we might not have paid enough attention to – including patients and families who can’t be together – and these stories are worth telling, too.
What motivated me to get involved in public health was to hear from leaders in the field like Atul Gawande and Michael Marmot, and to get involved with a non-profit organization focused on the prevention of non-communicable diseases. called NCDFree, which she volunteered for during Monash University School of Medicine. If you look at society, the biggest causes of death are cardiovascular disease and stroke, and the biggest risk factor for these diseases, especially in countries where smoking rates are low, is our diet. Big food companies are manipulating our evolutionary movement of high-calorie, high-sugar, low-nutrition foods like sugary drinks. I’ve helped run a food festival called Festival21 with several of the NCDFree team, led by Sandro DiMaio, for 3,000 people who have highlighted the intersection of food, health, and sustainability. I’ve also partnered with the Australian Medical Students Association to advocate against things the government was doing to dismantle universal health coverage and liberalize university fees; to defend the soft drink tax; Contribute to mental health campaigns for students and donate blood.
The highlight of my time at Harvard was a course called Reimagining Global HealthIt was taught by [the late Partners In Health cofounder] Paul Farmer and three prominent medical anthropologists, Arthur Kleinman, Salman Keshavjee, and Ann Baker. What was life-changing was the way they took concepts from anthropology and social theory and applied them to their first-hand experiences in Peru, Haiti, Rwanda, Russia, China, Fiji, and elsewhere. For low- or middle-income countries, multilateral organizations often prioritize the most “cost-effective” things; For example, they might say that these countries “don’t need cancer drugs because we need to treat them for HIV and tuberculosis first.” But global health isn’t just about tackling the “dangling fruit” like distributing bed nets to prevent malaria, it’s also about building hospitals, training doctors and nurses, and developing the health care delivery system. The course made me want to know how we can influence global systems to ensure better access to treatments worldwide – like PEPFAR [The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief] And a similar program that we’ve had with HIV drugs — rather than just raising our hands and saying this is very difficult.
For my current research, I work with Harvard Medical School Aaron Kesselheim and his group, called PORTAL (Regulation, Treatment and Law Program), to help advocate for lower drug prices and make them more accessible. Many of the lessons I learned about Big Food also apply to Big Pharma. Just to give an example of how drug companies are working the system to their advantage, one company holds 88 patents on a drug called ibrutinib, used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Patents prevent generic competitors from entering the market so that they can continue to benefit from it for as long as possible. Sometimes in medicine, basic science about cancer treatment is really emphasized and celebrated, but if we get these drugs and people can’t access them because they’re so expensive, well, we’re not going to fail our jobs anyway?
I am now doing a fellowship At PORTAL he researches the intersection of leukemia medicine and public policy, researching pricing and regulation of drugs and cellular therapies such as CAR T cells. My dream job is to become an academic hematologist who can use my clinical work to introduce research, policy, and advocacy work to make society and the health system work better. For everyone.
I’m so passionate about classical musicI play oboe and percussion in the orchestra. They are two very different types of machines, but I like them both. The oboe is a key player in the middle of the orchestra, where you feel like you’re in the thick of things, while with the beat you’re more exposed and you can’t hide. It turns out that my Harvard Chan consultant, Michael Barnett, is also an oboeist! Music is a very mindful activity, as you learn very early on how to stop the crying child in the second row from the audience. When they tried to teach us mindfulness in medical school, I realized I actually learned it from playing music.
– Michael Blanding
Pictured: Alex Librowsky