A father-son duo maps how USAID’s work has evolved and helped strengthen the U.S.-India partnership.
Dr. Amit Chandra visits a health and wellness center in Tripura. He is a senior emerging health challenges adviser with USAID Bureau for Asia in Washington, D.C. (Photograph courtesy Dr. Amit Chandra)
As a practicing emergency physician and global health policy specialist, Dr. Amit Chandra works on health concerns related to air pollution and digital innovation. His practice settings have been varied and range from a referral hospital in Botswana and a busy trauma center in New Delhi to a New York City emergency department and a frontier hospital on a Native American Reservation.
Dr. Chandra is currently a senior emerging health challenges adviser with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Asia in Washington, D.C., where he supports USAID’s health team in India. Since joining USAID in 2019, he has traveled extensively in India to rural health and wellness centers supported by the agency in Madhya Pradesh and Tripura. The health and wellness centers are designed to bring health services closer to local communities.
Dr. Chandra’s connection with USAID goes back a long way—his father, Subash Chandra, too worked with the agency. “It is a great honor to work closely with USAID/India colleagues and to walk into the same buildings where my father worked in the 1960’s,” he says. “When I work with Indians supporting USAID development partnerships, it makes me feel connected to my father.”
Dr. Chandra’s father began his career with USAID in 1962 as an accountant at the Technical Cooperation Mission at U.S. Embassy New Delhi, which later became the USAID Mission when the agency was launched in India. His work with USAID took him to Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was the chief of the dollar section in the accounting department. “My work with USAID at the beginning of my career exposed me to international affairs, diplomacy and international development,” Mr. Chandra says. “After USAID, I devoted the remainder of my career to these issues around the world as a diplomat and finance specialist with the World Bank.” Mr. Chandra joined the World Bank in Washington, D.C., in 1972 and retired in 1999 as a senior disbursement officer.
The father and son’s careers at different times at USAID reflect the agency’s growth and development globally, and in India. Since the 1960’s, USAID has worked with the Government of India and other development partners on a range of issues. As Mr. Chandra says, “In the 1960’s, USAID provided essential development assistance to India. For example, through wheat donations, known as the PL-480 program. USAID also provided other grants, and financial and technical assistance to support India and address a variety of other development challenges like health, food security, agriculture and infrastructure.”
Today, as Dr. Chandra’s work with the rural health and wellness centers shows, the relationship has moved toward partnership-based programs. USAID collaborates with partners across India to address issues related to clean energy, environment, the climate crisis, health, open and inclusive digital ecosystems and inclusive economic growth.
Subash Chandra (left) with USAID colleagues. (Photograph courtesy Dr. Amit Chandra)
Identifying new challenges
For instance, “The Indian government has identified air pollution as a major challenge and USAID is partnering with them in the clean energy and health space,” says Dr. Chandra. “Unlike many other public health challenges, air pollution is not just a health sector concern. It’s also related to economic growth, manufacturing, transportation and public education where people need to have the knowledge of how to adopt everyday practices that do not contribute to air pollution.” This takes enormous coordination across different units. In a bid to ensure better health outcomes, the Indian government is working toward strengthening its Comprehensive Primary Health Care programs across the country through the Ayushman Bharat program and with technical assistance provided by USAID.
Dr. Chandra’s work at the health and wellness centers provides many opportunities to meet dedicated public health medical officers stationed in rural areas. “It is inspiring to learn about how USAID’s partners are improving the delivery of health services,” he says. “Meeting community members who have stepped up to become local leaders and local agents of health care, like the accredited social health activist (ASHA) workers, shows how important it is to create links between these health centers and the individuals they serve through trusted local people.”
Dr. Chandra attributes his intersectional and international health policy approach to the exposure to his father’s international work and to his frequent travel to India while growing up. “Our family’s biannual visits to India gave me a chance to see how the country was changing,” he says.
His advice to those interested in similar work is simple. “Take any opportunities to work in the field,” he says. “Get hands-on experience addressing technical challenges outside of headquarters buildings or offices. My work treating patients in hospitals in New York City and in Botswana, and my experiences visiting rural clinics in India inform the work I do every day.”
Paromita Pain is an assistant professor of Global Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.