Merce Gasco

With JSI since 2000

Senior Technical Advisor on Maternal Newborn and Child Health and Family Planning/Reproductive Health for JSI 

Merce Gasco

Merce Gasco

What do you believe are the important issues in public health?

The number-one priority in public health should be to provide everyone with equal opportunity to access health care, or what is called universal health coverage. And I emphasize the equity aspect since inequalities persist in most health systems—including the U.S.— and contribute to significant health disparities around the globe.

You have worked for JSI for 16 years; can you talk about some of the different work you have done?

During my time here, I have traveled to more than 20 country programs and have worked on numerous projects, primarily focused on family planning and maternal health. When I first started at JSI, I was chief of party for the Romanian Family Health Initiative, a seven-year USAID-funded project that really helped to strengthen maternal health care—including family planning—in Romania. Later, I provided managerial support and technical expertise to maternal and child health projects in Russia and Bolivia and a regional strategic information project in South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland. I spent two years in Ethiopia serving as technical director of the Integrated Family Health Program working to increase women living in rural areas access to skilled birth attendants. Currently, I am the senior technical advisor for the Mozambique Strategic Information System and the team leader of the Maternal Health Thematic Group.

“JSI is an organization where challenges are not hidden under the carpet. Rather, challenges are something you put on the table and discuss.”

Romanian team receiving the Honor Award from USAID

Romanian team receiving the Honor Award from USAID

What attracted you to public health, and specifically family planning and maternal health?

I am from Barcelona, Spain and attended medical school to become an ob/gyn. One day at work, a colleague asked me to cover for her at a family planning center in one of Barcelona’s poor neighborhood and I saw the large health disparities among the people living there. I was astonished by how much work was needed to help women in minority groups have healthy reproductive lives. Since then, I have dedicated my time and work to family planning, maternal health, and strengthening the health systems to ensure that the population—wherever it may be— has access to these services.

What is a current project you are working on?

When the Ebola outbreak began, JSI assisted the Minister of Health of Liberia to strengthen its response to the outbreak. We are applying what we learned from Ebola to our response to Zika. There are lots of questions about Zika and if there will be a big epidemic or less than what experts have predicted. My work now is to contribute to an approach that will better equip governments and ministries of health to respond not only to Zika but future health, environmental, and other public health crises.

Traveling to Los Yungas. Bolivia

Traveling to Los Yungas. Bolivia

How do you deal with challenges at work?

There are many challenges I face but I embrace them. Challenges make you think of solutions, make you talk to people, and make your organization grow. JSI is an organization where challenges are not hidden under the carpet. Rather, challenges are something you put on the table and discuss. I love my job because it challenges me and constantly keeps me on my toes.                                                     

How many languages are you fluent in?

I am fluent in five languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Hebrew.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I really enjoy sailing, but it has been quite difficult since the boat that I share with my friends is in Greece. We are planning to sail the boat across the Atlantic to Boston. Six other people are joining me so far!

A Project to Remember

The project I am most proud of is the Romanian Family Health Initiative. The reproductive lives of the Romanian women were very dark. Contraceptives were not available, and abortion was the only way to control fertility. Misinformation about family planning methods was pervasive, not only among women but health providers, too.

The focus of the project was to reform and strengthen Romania’s primary health care system so that it could provide family planning to all citizens, especially to the most vulnerable populations, which included the Roma population and people from rural areas.

By the end of the project, contraceptive prevalence increased significantly, and there was a concurrent and dramatic decrease in abortion rates. The program we created in Romania became sustainable and doctors were teaching about and providing women with contraceptives. It was a great experience for me because I was able to contribute and witness the positivity that resulted from the project.

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