Global Health Blog

  1. Students of Global Health: Dennis Hong Liu

    November 20, 2014 by Emily Drewry

    IMAG1352If he had to give one piece of advice to incoming medical school students, Dennis Hong Liu (pictured, second from left) would tell them to get as much exposure to new things as possible. As someone whose journey has taken him to Mexico and the world of global health after undergraduate study, he has experienced firsthand that you never know what might spark your interest somewhere down the road.

    Now in his second year at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, Liu originally hails from San Diego, California and attended UC-Berkeley. During his undergraduate years, Liu studied integrative biology with the goal of attending medical school post-graduation. He spent his free time volunteering at a Hepatitis B clinic that delivered free vaccinations, outreach and education to underserved areas, attempting to address the large prevalence in the Bay area.

    Upon coming to Feinberg, Liu heard about the Northwestern University Alliance for International Development. The group, founded in 1999, organizes student trips to Latin America and India to provide free medical care to underserved populations. The organization conducted significant outreach to medical students to generate enthusiasm about practicing medicine abroad. “NUAID really came to the students,” Liu says. “The more I got to find out about it, the more I trusted it.” He got involved, drawn to the organization’s team-based approach, and took on a leadership role in planning a month-long trip to Mexico between his first and second years at Feinberg.

    The trip itself was, according to Liu, “the highlight of my first year of medical school because it pushed me outside my comfort zone.” The team spent three weeks shadowing in local clinics, taking Spanish classes, and preparing for the final week, where they put on a workshop for a group of forty traditional midwives, known as parteras, who came from various cities of the state of Oaxaca. It was a valuable lesson in maternal and fetal health, as well as the importance of cultural exchange. “I gained a perspective about how medicine works in other countries that I would never get in Chicago,” he recalls fondly.

    The nine-member team partnered with Child Family Health International, a San Francisco-based NGO that helped in the creation of the community programming. In the end, Liu’s responsibilities went far beyond organizing plane tickets, staying in contact with local coordinators and getting the team together. In the end, he says, “the fact that I had a lot of responsibility as the trip leader to get the workshop going, it was an invaluable leadership opportunity.”

    Liu was introduced to the concept of global health at Feinberg, never having been abroad to work in medicine. The group he took to Mexico was very widespread with experience in the field, he recalls. “Global health is emphasized at Northwestern,” Liu says, calling the opportunities at both the undergraduate and graduate levels “fantastic.”

    The experience taught students how doctors across the world deal with limited resources and what kind of patient outcomes they see, despite the challenges. “These are life lessons I learned from global health that I am unable to replicate [in the classroom],” Liu says. Additionally, upon his return to school following the trip, Liu found his confidence in his medical skills had reached a new level. “Having had to practice physical exams and other medical history taking in Spanish, once I got back to Feinberg, performing history taking and physical exams were easier.”

    Now that he is back in the swing of things in Chicago, Liu has returned his focus to the goal of one day becoming a surgeon. His interest in global health sparked, he hopes to one day integrate global health projects into his surgical practice. His interest isn’t specific to one area of the globe, but rather focused on the opportunity to work with underserved populations.

    Above all, Liu is grateful for the opportunity he had to enter the realm of global health. “Global health has become an area I want to explore more in,” he says. [The trip] reaffirmed my desire to go into medicine.”

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  2. Director of “A Doctor of My Own” attends screening with Q&A

    November 19, 2014 by Arianna Yanes
    Source: adoctorofmyown.com

    Source: adoctorofmyown.com

    Sub-Saharan Africa has 24% of the global burden of disease, yet only 3% of the world’s healthcare workforce. Recently, these statistics have become especially salient with the current Ebola outbreak. The recruitment and retention of physicians in these countries is challenging, especially with the lack of medical schools.

    In Namibia, the first medical school was founded in 2010 and the first class of students will graduate this December. Filmmaker and Vanderbilt University medical student Trisha Pasricha captured the journey of medical students at the University of Namibia in her short film, “A Doctor of My Own.” The Program of African Studies and IPD hosted a screening with a Q&A session with Pasricha on Tuesday as part of International Education Week at Northwestern.

    The University of Namibia School of Medicine was funded in part by the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a part of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). In the documentary, multiple medical students mentioned the high-quality facilities in interviews, with clips of the school to support their claims. However, as one professor in the film remarked, “Buildings don’t make a school. People make a school.” The emphasis of the school is on the students and, as such, a curriculum has been devised and tailored specifically for their needs in the context of health in Namibia.

    Many of the students in the film expressed the sentiment that they feel a “huge social responsibility” or “requirement” to heal their country from within and give back to their communities. Despite the passion and determination of the students, finding doctors to work in the rural clinics proves challenging. The lack of resources, tools, and clinicians, prevents a doctor from doing his job well, as one of the students described. For this reason, as well as financial ones, many physicians emigrate to urban areas or to other countries to practice.

    One way the University of Namibia is working against this trend is through a mandatory one-month rural community project in their third year of school. Field experience in rural clinics increased students’ desires to work in such environments in the future. As the students graduate in December, Pasricha plans to follow up with them and see if the ones keen on rural work ultimately pursued it.

    Another method is the quota system the University of Namibia has in place, requiring a certain number of students from each region of the country. The students are high-achieving high-schoolers who score well on a standardized exam, analogous to the SAT. By bringing students from all areas, including the most rural, it makes it more likely that students will return to their home communities, increasing the spread of doctors throughout the nation.

    Students, faculty members, and Evanston community members attended the film screening. The film was released in 2012 but has become more popular after the current Ebola outbreak. It has not yet been shown in Namibia, but Pasricha hopes to host a private screening with the student stars of the documentary when she returns to Namibia.

    To find out more about the documentary, visit http://adoctorofmyown.wordpress.com/about/.

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  3. Students of Global Health: Michael Aleman

    November 7, 2014 by Emily Drewry

    Michael Aleman Haiti For Michael Aleman, all it took was a three-week trip to Haiti to change his life. The Northwestern senior fondly recalls his time volunteering with The CRUDEM Foundation as a “key experience that changed my life.” Aleman’s experiences abroad, as well as his work on campus, have shaped him to become an impressive figure in NU’s Global Health community and made him an individual that will go on to have real impact in the years ahead.

    Michael entered McCormick School of Engineering as a biomedical engineer, but soon discovered a concentration that was better suited to his interests: mechanical engineering. He added a Global Health minor after discovering a passion for the topic towards the end of his freshman year.

    The tasks he encountered in Haiti were simultaneously challenging yet quite simple, Aleman recalls. His goal was to investigate how effectively donations made to a Christian medical clinic in rural Haiti were being deployed. “I was so inspired by the fact that the head of the clinic was Haitian,” says Michael. “They were so committed to helping out their own people, and it was mind-blowing what they could do under such constrained circumstances.” Even with limited supplies and equipment, he explains, the clinic has been offering free or heavily subsidized care for over 40 years. His passion for looking into the development of medical systems and materials truly began during his time in Haiti, Aleman says. During his time abroad, he recalls saying to himself, “This is going to be my life’s work.” From that time on, Michael has pursued opportunities to help him on the path towards creating medical equipment and supplies for the areas in the developing world.

    Michael Aleman

    Back on campus, Aleman got involved with Northwestern’s chapter of Engineering World Health (serving as president in 2013) and Mission Outreach, where he takes part in extensive volunteer efforts. He went abroad in the fall of his junior year to Chile, where he was surprised by the modern health care system. “It revealed how medical care can be done differently and more efficiently,” Aleman recalls. “The US way isn’t the best way.”

    While in Chile, he also discovered a valuable lesson for how to make the biggest impact when looking to help abroad: “You realize once you’re there that you have the most effect when you just say, ‘I can help, where do you need me?’” It’s the same lesson he found so important in Haiti, and one of the reasons he finds the field of global health so rewarding yet challenging.

    Aleman’s interest in the effectiveness of healthcare has led to his newest project: applying for a Fulbright Grant to spend time in Indonesia after graduation. His project looks at the effect of increased healthcare spending in Bali and the relation of the increased hazardous medical waste to public health. The project will allow Michael to utilize the skills he picked up at Northwestern as well as his time abroad. “Indonesia will serve as a test-case for better waste tracking techniques,” Aleman states in his grant application. Applying for the grant has been an exceptionally meaningful process, says Aleman. His past experiences in the field of global health have led him this far, and it’s certain he will continue to impact those around him in the years to come.

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  4. Introducing Peter Locke: New Global Health Studies faculty member

    November 6, 2014 by Arianna Yanes

    Peter Locke, a new faculty member in Global Health Studies and Anthropology at Northwestern, is bringing new perspectives and experiences to enhance undergraduate global health education.

    Peter Locke hopes to be a resource for undergraduates pursuing paths in global health.

    Peter Locke hopes to be a resource for undergraduate global health students.

    As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, Locke debated whether to become a humanitarian practitioner or to focus on critical thinking and research in global health. Drawn to anthropologists’ capacity to reflect deeply about the ways that international aid encounters are shaped by cultural difference, politics, and social inequalities, he decided to pursue a PhD in cultural and medical anthropology at Princeton University. There he began to explore humanitarian psychiatry and the politics of post-traumatic stress in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, under his mentor João Biehl. His PhD dissertation focuses on how small psychosocial support organizations and their beneficiaries have survived, searched for resources, and adapted to the many challenges of everyday life after times of war.

    Through fieldwork, Locke saw how survivors’ experiences of psychological distress were shaped as much by the socioeconomic and political challenges of the present as by the traumatic events of the recent past. “One role of anthropological research, I saw, was to open up the idea of trauma—to show all these other determinants that shape people’s mental health symptoms after a war,” he explained.

    After finishing his doctorate, Locke worked as a postdoctoral fellow and then as a lecturer at Princeton, helping to develop their global health program. Over the course of three summers, he led undergraduate global health students to Sierra Leone to pursue research internships in collaboration with the medical humanitarian NGO Wellbody Alliance. Locke and his students observed firsthand the deep poverty and limited public health infrastructure—as well as the legacy of distrust left by the fragmented aid projects of the colonial and postcolonial eras—that have become so central to the Ebola epidemic currently afflicting Sierra Leone and its neighbors. It was there that he strengthened his commitment to harnessing anthropological research methods and insights to enrich undergraduate teaching, mentoring, and experiential learning.

    “The students, understandably, would come in with a lot of idealism about the possibilities of medical humanitarianism and their own immediate contributions,” Locke said. “There would be some tough reality checks at first, recognizing how complex and difficult these problems were. I learned how important it is to help students transform natural disillusionment into a productive critique of reigning paradigms in global health and a renewed, potentially lifelong commitment to the field.”

    When a position opened up at Northwestern, Locke was excited by the opportunity to continue to apply his experiences and knowledge to teaching. Locke’s position as Assistant Professor of Instruction allows him to devote much of his time to building and delivering global health courses for undergraduates. Locke’s course this quarter, Health and the Social Markers of Difference, focuses on the intersection of social categories like race and gender with public health—and how these interactions affect health disparities and access to care in a range of contexts, from the U.S. to South Africa. In the winter quarter, he will teach Introduction to International Public Health and a smaller seminar on medical humanitarianism. In the spring, he will offer a Qualitative Research Methods course and a seminar called War and Public Health.

    Locke is also looking to develop a new undergraduate summer research program based in Bosnia, where students will have the opportunity to explore public health and mental health challenges in the aftermath of a war and with the fall of Yugoslavia’s socialist political and economic order. This summer, he plans to return to Bosnia to reengage his contacts from the time of his dissertation fieldwork, and hopes to officially start the program in the summer of 2016.

    “I’m really excited about traveling with students and getting to introduce them to these concepts and issues firsthand, guiding them in their research and discovery.”

    Locke is enthusiastic about his new role at Northwestern, as well as his new life here in Evanston.

    “I’m excited to be here in Chicago and to explore the region,” Locke said. “I’ll be interested to see how we navigate the winter.”

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  5. AYZH: Changing Lives Through Sanitary Childbirths

    November 5, 2014 by Haley Lillehei

    I recently had the privilege to attend a conversation titled “Innovation Around the World,” part of Chicago Ideas Week. The speakers of the conference were described as some of the “most talented young innovators from around the world,” who were gathered “to share their exciting emerging technologies. From health to education, climate change to policy reform, these entrepreneurs, leaders and ideas makers are reshaping the technologies we use every day and re-inventing our world.”

    The conversation was led by Benjamin F. Jones, the Gordon & Llura Gund Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Management and featured 7 additional speakers. The first three were young entrepreneurs who were making advances in various fields followed by four of this year’s Bluhm/Hefland Social Innovation Fellowship (BHSI) winners. The BHSI fellowship recognizes several young and socially conscious leaders who have developed ventures addressing civic needs. The goal of the fellowship is to provide them with exposure to large businesses and community leaders in hope to find funding to support and grow their causes.

    Echoing-Green-Fellow-2012-Zubaida-Bai_0

    This year one of the winners is Zubaida Bai from Chennai, India, who is the founder and CEO of AYZH, a for-profit social venture which provides clean birth kits to impoverished women worldwide and aims to reduce the nearly 300,000 preventable deaths during childbirth that occur each year.

    Zubaida is a mechanical engineer-turned- social entrepreneur who saw the need to improve the lives of underprivileged women. Growing up in India, she witnessed firsthand many women’s struggles with minimal financial means and poor health. According to the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health, India has the highest number of maternal and child deaths per year – many of which are due to preventable unsanitary conditions. Says Zubaida on the TED blog, “At a young age, I often dreamed of solutions to end this silent suffering of women.”

    After her own misfortune of contracting an infection due to giving birth in unsanitary conditions, Zubaida refocused on her childhood dream of making births safer. In 2012, she launched AYZH, which specializes in clean birthing kits that contain all the components recommended by the World Health Organization for a safe and hygienic birth, using environmentally and culturally appealing materials.

    AYZH’s $2 Clean Birth Kit, which includes clamp and scalpel blade, a sterile surface and sterilizing hand wipes, via TED blog

    AYZH’s $2 Clean Birth Kit, which includes clamp and scalpel blade, a sterile surface and sterilizing hand wipes, via TED blog

    Zubaida spoke about why the culturally appealing products and basic technology are so important. Often, communities and individuals have a hard time integrating more complex medical technology or things that seem foreign to them into their everyday practices. By paying attention to cultural differences and looking into what the community wants, AYZH makes sure its products will be beneficial and actually used. Additionally, all products are assembled and packaged by local women, creating economic opportunities in the communities AYZH serves and further assuring the packages will be acceptable to the women. By selling the kits to for-profit health institutions, like hospitals, clinics, and non-profit aid organizations, the kits are available at the point of use and more readily accessible.

    “We exist as a commitment to save lives and change lives, one product at a time, making one happy woman at a time.” Hearing Zubaida talk about AYZH, one could hear her determination and see her passion. Her product and company have the potential to create a lot of positive change and I look forward to following her successes.

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