Global Health Blog

  1. Ebola and food security: local impacts of the outbreak

    October 22, 2014 by Arianna Yanes

    Ebola has been all over the news for the past few months. We’ve heard stories about American aid workers and journalists contracting the disease and being flown back to the U.S. for treatment. We’ve heard about the increasing numbers of deaths in West Africa. We’ve heard about the breach in infection control protocol breach at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

    What has been largely left out of the news is the effect of this Ebola outbreak on the lives of West Africans. Currently, food security is a major concern.

    The Ebola outbreak has profoundly affected food security in West Africa, causing prices to rise by an average of 24 percent.  The cost of food and accessibility pose barriers for individuals in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the countries in which the current outbreak is spreading.

    Fear and restrictions on movement have led to panic buying and food shortages. Additionally, labor shortages on farms have affected rice and maize production. Border crossing closures and reduction of trade has also profoundly impacted the food availability in these countries.

    Elisabeth Byrs, a WFP spokesperson, told Reuters that  “planting and harvesting [are] being disrupted.”

    The United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) has approved plan for 65,000 tonnes of food to 1.3 million people to patients, cases in isolation, and communities badly affected. Just this Saturday, food rations were delivered to 265,000 people in the Waterloo district outside of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. The deliveries aim to prevent the spread of the virus, by stabilizing quarantined families and removing the necessity to leave their homes in search of food.

    The aim of the food deliveries is to “prevent this health crisis from becoming a food and nutrition crisis,” Gon Myers, the WFP County Director in Sierra Leone told ABC News.

    Additionally, the World Food Program (WFP) is using mobile phones to carry out a food security survey in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The first round of the survey has reached 800 people in Sierra Leone.

    On Wednesday, October 15, international representatives gathered to the annual World Food Prize Award Ceremony. Though not initially scheduled as a topic, African leaders discussed the effects of Ebola on the food supplies in a press conference, with an available webcast online.

    “I think the impact on regional trade is going to be very, very serious,” said Dr. Kanayo Nwanze, President of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development. “And so we believe that like in any other situation where you have a crisis, we should begin to plan for the aftermath of the crisis.”

     

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  2. Students of Global Health: Kingsley Leung

    October 21, 2014 by Emily Drewry

    Beijing Pic 1 Looking back, Northwestern senior Kingsley Leung can recognize the instincts that led him to the field of global health. As a freshman in Weinberg in the fall of 2011, his first choice seminar was titled “Who Discovered HIV”. Beyond that class, however, Leung had little knowledge or awareness of the field of global health. Leung was declared as a Neurobiology major, Music Cognition minor, and on the pre-med track. It wasn’t until a meeting with his pre-med advisor sophomore year, however, that Leung was introduced to global health opportunities at Northwestern. When discussing what to do during the upcoming summer, his advisor suggested he apply to the Public Health in China program.

    Intrigued, Leung applied for and subsequently participated in the program during the summer before his junior year. The program piqued Leung’s interest in Global Health. “It was the first time I found myself really personally invested in what I was learning,” he says. Upon his return to the States for his junior year, Leung registered for Professor Noelle Sullivan’s Introduction to Public Health course. The class would spark an interest in the subject that has become a driving factor in Leung’s academic career, seeing the convergence of his medical background with the social factors that fascinate him. “The course was the first time a class really changed my perspective on the world and how I see things,” Leung says.

    Leung hails from San Rafael, California, where he moved at the age of seven after spending his first years of life in Hong Kong. He ties his early years in Hong Kong partially to his natural interest in health, an appreciation he discovered during his time abroad. The program was split into two sections, with the first focusing on public health in China – epidemiology, the public health system, environmental health, etc. Leung found these topics interesting, but it was the second focus of the program, traditional Chinese medicine, that truly stuck out to him.

    “Growing up in Hong Kong, treatments when I was sick weren’t always Western medicine,” he says. “There were ways of treating things – with herbs, massages, teas.” The combination of Western and Chinese medicine, sometimes at the same time, was a unique background for Leung to reflect upon many years later. Leung loved learning the theories behind traditional medicine and witnessing firsthand how the historical and cultural aspects of the country relay into medical practices. Weekly excursions to locations such as an herb mound further augmented the learning experiences. “They are such experts on this practice they develop,” says Leung. “Over the years, it’s amazing how different it is than here.”

    Upon his return to campus, Leung’s interest in medicine continued to develop and nurture his passion for the human mind.  “It’s fascinating to learn about how I’m learning,” he laughs. The neurobiology of learning is a growing field, and Leung wants to be a part of the generation that gets to develop the knowledge base and continue to answer the questions that appear with every experiment. His increased interest in global health parallels his passion for science that existed before his early days as a Wildcat. “You come to college thinking you know a lot – and you come out thinking the opposite,” he says. This desire for further knowledge drives his interest in global health. “I love the fact that I don’t know a lot about the world.”

    This past summer, Leung expanded his experience even further while working on a project with Professor Michael Diamond. The team worked in conjunction with the public libraries in Skokie and Evanston to create a method of distributing health information. The idea was based off a model in France, Leung explains, that utilizes the inherent quality of libraries being sources of knowledge. The project aims to develop a health desk that will be open twice a week and staffed by Northwestern students that can provide a database of trustworthy health information to the public. They hope to help families in the area who might not have health insurance, or who struggle with literacy problems, get relevant information on the health concerns they might have. A summer of hard work showed the team that the project is much bigger than anticipated, says Leung. They will continue their efforts throughout this upcoming school year.

    Leung pinpoints the importance of collaboration as the most important lesson of his summer. “Collaboration is very powerful. The project wouldn’t be possible without it.” In working with both libraries, a local hospital, and individuals at the Evanston Health Department, the team learned just how difficult but important creating access to health information is.

    On campus, Leung serves as a volunteer at the Chinatown Health Clinic, helping translate for patients who speak Mandarin and Cantonese. It was a natural fit, he says, to use his language skills and interest in health to help others. Additionally, he tutors on campus through the Gateway Science Workshop (GSW) and Academic Mentoring Program (AMP) programs. His love for teaching has developed throughout his time at NU, never having been something he’d considered before college. But the opportunity to help other students in challenging courses such as General Chemistry and Biology is incredibly rewarding. “I found myself walking out feeling like I had made a difference in someone’s life,” Leung says.

    Now, as he nears the end of his time at Northwestern, the important pieces of the Leung’s life – education, health, and science – have all been woven together through his on-campus involvement and academic discourse. In the future, Leung hopes to continue working globally and maintain his focus in health and education. He is currently in the process of applying for a Fulbright Grant to teach English in South Korea, as a way to spend his gap year before attending medical school. After almost four years at Northwestern, “everything ties together,” says Leung. “I never expected it to work out that way.”

    Beijing Pic 2

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  3. American Soda Makers Join in Effort to Cut Calories Americans Consume in Drinks

    October 20, 2014 by Haley Lillehei

    “Today we announce a profoundly important commitment to combat the obesity epidemic by cutting calories in America’s soft drinks – outside of school and beyond children,” said Bill Clinton, announcing a new soda initiative.

    On September 23, at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual meeting in New York, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group made an announcement: a shared goal to reduce the number of calories consumed per person through soda and sugary drinks by 20% by 2025.

    How will these beverage companies achieve their goal? Through a mixture of marketing tactics, distribution, and packaging. The initiative builds off of a 2006 agreement to limit portion sizes targeted at school kids, which, according to a 2012 independent analysis in the American Journal of Public Heath, results in beverage calories shipped to schools falling by 90% between 2004 and 2010. Some see the announcement as a direct response to the growing criticism of the beverage industry, which is blamed for contributing to America’s obesity epidemic.

    Currently more than one third of the United States is obese, and a lot of the developed world has similar problems. Worldwide, the amount of overweight and obese people increased from 857 million in 1980 to 2.1 billion in 2013 – an increase of over 145%. Although the amount of obese individuals in the United States tops the list, China, India, Russia, and Brazil, among others, follow close behind.

    www.usnews.com

    While the average consumer obtains an average of about 6% of their daily caloric intake from sugary sodas, in low-income communities, a child may consume more than half of their daily calories from sugary sodas. A soda might cost $.50, while a bottled water might cost $1.99 – it’s not hard to see why children, or their parents, might chose a sugary drink.

    How are these sodas contributing to obesity? They contain huge amounts of refined sugar, which has a high glycemic index but a low satiating property, a combination believed to contribute to large amounts of weight gain, and eventually obesity.  According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are many problems stemming from obesity, including and not limited to: coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type II diabetes, abnormal blood fats, metabolic syndrome, cancer, sleep apnea, reproductive problems, and gallstones.

    Will this strategy of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group actually help lower obesity rates? Susan Neely, chief executive officer of the American Beverage Association, believes it will: “This is the single-largest voluntary effort by an industry to help fight obesity,” she said in a statement. “The initiative will help transform the beverage landscape in America.”

    The different beverage companies committed to widening the availability of low and zero calorie drinks, as well as selling drinks in smaller sizes. Each company also plans to provide calorie counts and promote calories awareness.

    “This is really important. This strategy can sustainably lower the aggregate weight of the country in a way that will dramatically improve health outcomes, reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes, and its attended consequences, and in particular cases can help us to reverse type II diabetes which is profoundly important,” said Bill Clinton while announcing the initiative.

    However, many health experts are skeptical of the initiative to make any real difference – they see it as little more than a good public relations move and marketing tactic. Sales of sugary drinks have been declining in the last 10 years or so – according to the Beverage Digest, calories consumed through soda declined 12% from 2000 to 2013, many see the announcement as capitalizing on a trend already taking place.

    “I suspect they’re promising what’s going to happen anyway,” said Kelly Brownell, an expert on obesity and dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. “All the trends are showing decreased consumption of high-calorie beverages, and so what better way to get a public relations boost than to promise to do what’s happening anyway?”

    Regardless of whether or not this initiative is going to make a big difference, it’s clear that sugary drinks are contributing to America’s, as well as the rest of the world’s, obesity problem. Hopefully the decline in consumption continues, and the obesity rate falls with it, lessening the burden on our healthcare system and making Americans healthier.

    This initiative may help the beverage companies goal to offset the decline in sugary beverages purchased. It is questionable whether purchasing and consuming slightly less sugary beverages and/or artificially sweetened beverages will assist with obesity and all of its health related options. Perhaps a better, but more controversial and challenging option would be to avoid beverages with added sugar and artificial sugar altogether and address access to other types of beverages.

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  4. Be the voices for the voiceless, says Kristof

    October 16, 2014 by Emily Drewry

    Nicholas Kristof is a two-time Pulitzer award winning journalist whose op-ed columns for The New York Times have captivated the nation. His bi-weekly commentaries on current international events, as well as the publication of multiple books with common themes of human rights and development, have positioned him as an essential voice for those interested in being globally aware. Mr. Kristof delivered a talk titled “Why Students Should Care About the World & Change It” at Northwestern University on October 13. The event, co-sponsored by the CGL, GLI, Buffet Center, IPD, Medill and the Study Abroad Office, was open to both students and members of the public.

    _MG_2276“Get outside of your comfort zone,” Kristof emphatically began his speech to a captivated audience of over 600 at Cahn Auditorium on Monday. Guests showed up in force to hear Kristof, a renowned journalist who is said to have “rewritten opinion journalism.” Kristof is known for telling the story of broader issues through the stories of individuals, a method that gives readers a chance to connect and identify with causes. This shone through in Kristof’s speech as well, as he led with a story of a 9-year-old girl who made a huge change in the lives of thousands, simply by making the decision to give her birthday gifts as donations to help get clean water in Ethiopia. As Kristof painted the picture of Rachel’s story, the crowd was hushed, and when the final total of her cause was revealed – $1.2 million – there was a communal gasp. “That is what trying to engage in a larger cause can do,” Kristof says. “In lives that are so chaotic, so busy, so much going on, this is something that can provide an overlay of purpose or meaning for all of us.” And this is the power of Kristof’s strategy; building powerful connections using the words he so skillfully weaves together to build a story that feels so real and close to audiences.

    In 2009, Kristof co-authored “Half the Sky,” a book about women’s empowerment, with his wife Sheryl WuDunn. The book was widely acclaimed, spawning a PBS broadcast event, a Facebook-hosted game and a significant amount of conversation across the country. “After writing Half the Sky, it seemed to us there are an awful lot of people who would like to make a difference, would like to find some kind of a larger purpose, have an impact, but don’t really know what to do,” Kristof recount. “They feel that the problems are so vast that they really don’t know they can have an impact.” This feeling, that the world’s problems are so big they cannot possibly be solved, is one of the main myths Kristof aims to disprove through his work as a journalist and an advocate. “But it also seems to us,” he said, “that we have new understanding, new tools, new platforms that do enable us to have greater assurance now that we can have a greater impact than we could some time ago.”

    The biggest challenge Kristof sees in making these impacts is an empathy gap. People who have become successful in this country often attribute their success solely to their own hard work, he says, and forget about the circumstantial situation that may have affected them as well. This is part of the barrier to making a difference.

    This year, Kristof and WuDunn have released a new book about becoming effective global citizens, titled “A Path Appears.” The book highlights their recent research surrounding people who are making a difference in the world, through efforts of highly varying levels. The fight against ‘opportunity gaps’, as Kristof calls them, should be our main priority, even more so than a fight against generally deemed inequality. “Issues of opportunity seem paramount,” Kristof says. “So how do we create more opportunities for people?”

    He uses a few examples of how parenting decisions from birth make a significant difference in the future development and opportunities for their children. Yet these gaps are talked about much less frequently and have easier solutions than more notable causes. It is these topics that Kristof hopes to bring to light with the release of his new book.

    There’s no question that Kristof has become an important public figure for many of the causes he writes about in his column. As his name has become more familiar within households across the country, he has found it challenging to become more than just a journalist, and in some cases, the sole source of international information. His priorities are getting facts right, being smart about what he says, and doing his best to hold his own feet to the fire.

    Kristof denies a higher sense of purpose behind is massive dedication to human rights throughout the past few decades. Instead, “what drives me is seeing the things I see.” This was true with his research into female trafficking during “Half the Sky,” with his thorough reporting during the genocide in Darfur, and now for research around opportunity gaps in “The Path Appears.” Yet, while each of these causes can at times seem incredibly broad and overwhelming, Kristof’s main point of the night is how each individual can make a difference in their own way. There are three strong ways to get involved: donations, volunteering and advocacy, he says.

    Kristof says he often pushes back to criticism about solving international problems while there are problems closer to home that also need attention and support. To this, he says, “I don’t think that our empathy or compassion should depend upon the color of somebody’s skin, or the color of their passport. It should be a broader humanistic concept.”

    It is this kind of larger thinking that has made Kristof such a powerful figure of our time, and a man who has inspired so many individuals around the globe. On Monday night at Northwestern, his talk encouraged all in attendance to join him, step out of their comfort zones, and speak up for the voiceless.

    To learn more, visit http://apathappears.org.

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  5. Global Health Corps and the Fight for Health Equity

    October 15, 2014 by Emily Drewry

    Founded in 2008, Global Health Corps is an organization with the goal of attaining global health equity. As Northwestern University’s Class of 2015 begins to search for their post-graduation plans, whether it is employment, research, or higher education, GHC should be on the mind of anyone interested in global health and development.

    One of the co-founders of the organization, Andrew Bentley, graduated from NU in 2006. “I was motivated by a mix of things,” he says. “Frustrations I had seen in our domestic healthcare system, a lack of coordination between some of the medical care providers, among other things.” After graduation, Bentley worked for Google, where he saw young people coming up with innovative ideas and, as he explains it, “really running the show”. Bentley spent some time working on the Obama campaign and continued to be impressed with the skillsets and drive of the young people he was working with. “Young people can bring great new energy, new ideas, and an inventiveness to problems and challenges that need change.” It was that time in his life that Bentley began to independently study global health. He met the other cofounders of GHC at a conference for young leaders in global health in 2008, where the idea for a TFA-like system for global health volunteers was born.

    Fast-forward to 2014, and GHC has become an established entity, with Bentley remaining involved as a consultant for the team. “What I’ve heard from most fellows is that being a part of [the global health] community is life-changing. They develop passions, become confident in their work, and feel supported in the field,” he says. “Even if you’re not a part of GHC, the global health community that has developed is pretty amazing. There are so many different ways to contribute.”

    The mission of the organization is that “our generation must build a world in which everyone has access to comprehensive health care.” Through establishing meaningful relationships between local and international fellows, GHC provides a strong base for the years to come; making a lasting impact that will guide individuals toward a healthier world. Their mission, however simply phrased, is tackling an immense challenge. We live in a world where 6.3 million children under the age of five died last year, where clean water and sanitation aren’t accessible to 748 million people, and where the global prevalence of HIV is a shocking 0.8 percent (WHO). Yet GHC is driven by a sense of hope and passion that is made clear when speaking with alumni of the program.

    The strategy of the organization is to pair two fellows with an existing non-profit organization in the health sector that has needs their fellows can fill. They look for fellows who have a variety of backgrounds that will be helpful in problem solving, then match these individuals with an organization. Fellows undergo training through workshops and conferences to maximize impact potential, and then spend a year working in the field. These partnerships, according to the GHC website, “build a global ecosystems of fellows and alumni impacting health equity.”

    For GHC alumna Chelsea Ducharme, being paired with an international fellow was one of the biggest benefits of the program. “I lived with my co-fellow and another pair,” she recalls, “learned so much about the culture, and made a really good friend.”

    Ducharme worked in Kasese, Uganda at a local NGO called ACODEV (Action for Community Development). The organization focuses on education, empowerment, and advocacy, she says, and as the fundraising manager, Ducharme worked on resource mobilization and lent a helping hand to anything else the organization needed.

    As with all GHC selected organizations, Ducharme focused her efforts on promoting health as a human right. The benefit of working with GHC is the strong network in the six countries they place fellows in. The placement organizations vary; fellows can be placed in small community-based organizations, government agencies, large international nonprofits, etc. The program begins with a two-week training session at Yale, one of the benefits Ducharme found most rewarding of her time in the program. “There are great retreats and great development opportunities,” she says. “You make a great set of friends – it’s not just the staff and coworkers that inspire you, but also your peers.”

    It was this idea of collaboration that Caitlin Callahan, a NU graduate, found so valuable from her time in GHC. “GHC embodies the idea of an interdisciplinary approach to global health,” she says. “The co-fellows had a broad realm of backgrounds. To address public health issues, you have to bring many different fields to the table.”

    Callahan spent a year working as the Nutrition Fellow at Public Health Solutions in NYC. The organization institutes direct services, foods stamp enrollment, early intervention services, among other things. Callahan’s focus was on working with WIC, a nationally funded program that provides free nutritious meals for women and young children based on income level. She conducted a large-scale research project using bodegas, the local corner stores in NYC, as an opportunity to bring healthy options to food deserts in NYC to improve the nutrition of families.

    From New York originally, Callahan relished the opportunity to get the chance to continue her work in public health in her own backyard. “I didn’t really understand the whole complexity and magnitude of issues that were affecting NY neighborhoods,” she says. “My experience turned out to be hugely beneficial because I was able to understand how I could personally make a difference, even an impact, in the communities I really care about.”

    Both alumnae speak highly of their experiences and of the opportunities they’ve chosen to pursue post-GHC. Ducharme currently works for Northwestern as the Global Health Program assistant at IPD, while Callahan attends Georgetown Law School. Their differing paths and experiences with GHC speak to the power of the organization: an opportunity to bring individual skills, expertise, and passion to make a tangible change in the broader fight for health equity. Both have shown that passion and drive have no boundary; as the organization continues to send fellows abroad and to work in the US in the years to come, the power of youth, openness, and collaboration will continue to make a difference in the world.

    Sources:

    ghcorps.org

    who.org

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