Global Health Blog

  1. International Women’s Day Global Health Symposium makes global health discourse a reality

    March 9, 2015 by Arianna Yanes

    image1The first International Women’s Day was held on March 8, 1911, and the day continues to be celebrated today, to call for greater equality and recognize the achievements of women. On March 6, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosted the International Women’s Day Global Health Symposium at the Standard Hotel in Chicago to address women’s health around the world. Twelve Northwestern University Global Health Studies students attended the conference, along with a few faculty members.

    “Engaging with global health discourse in the classroom is one thing, but to see the people who are actually making change happen speak about it makes that discourse a reality,” said Abhi Veerina, a junior Global Health Studies minor who attended the conference.

    If you were unable to make it to the conference, but are interested to know what was said, here are the main takeaways from three key talks.

    Health Food for a Healthy World

    The panelists for this keynote, which took place over breakfast, were Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and Roger Thurow, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author of the One Book One Northwestern 2013-2014 choice, “The Last Hunger Season.” Thurow stressed the importance of the first 1,000 days on tackling hunger and the stunting of children around the globe. The first 1,000 days, from a mother’s pregnancy to the child’s second birthday, can help determine the course of their future, profoundly impacting the child’s ability to grow, learn, and rise out of poverty. This is important to individuals and societies as well, as Thurow explained the opportunity costs that result from stunted children that could have otherwise made large societal impacts.

    In the panel, Maehr explained how food deserts exist all across the globe, though the causes differ by region. In some places of the world, hunger is a result of war, weather, and geography. Here in Cook County, the issue is poverty. More than one million people live at or below the poverty level, which for a family of four is less than $23,000 yearly income. Additionally, she discussed the prevalence of hunger in all parts of our country, emphasizing that it is not only a rural issue.

    “Hunger is alive and strong in every one of Illinois’ counties,” Maehr said.

    The main takeaway was that nutrition is the bedrock issue for many societies today. In order for education or health initiatives to succeed, nutrition must first be addressed. The Greater Chicago Food Depository acknowledges this and works to combat issues of hunger and malnutrition in our community.

    “These are not problems that we have to tolerate,” Thurow said.

    Global Mental Health

    The next panel addressed global mental health, with Scott Portman, the Director of Special Projects at Heartland Alliance International, and Karlee Silver, the Vice President of Targeted Challenges at Grand Challenges Canada, as the two panelists.

    Silver discussed the current issues regarding mental health around the world, with 90% of people without access to proper care and a widespread stigmatization that prevents conversations and limits progression of treatment. She is working on an initiative in Canada called Saving Brains, that aims to “develop sustainable ways to promote and nurture healthy child and brain development in the first 1,000 days” to impact low-resource areas and foster human capital to solve the challenges that exist in these communities.

    To improve care in the U.S., Portman suggested U.S. development agencies be created with a specific focus on mental health and try to integrate mental health into policies. He believes the U.S. should enact programs like Saving Brains in Canada to promote healthy minds. On an individual level, Silver urged audience members to have more conversations about mental health in every day life, or to just talk to each other in general and reduce the loneliness that many feel around the world.

    Smart Economics: Women’s Reproductive Health

    Purnima Mane, the President and CEO of Pathfinder International, an organization that focuses on family planning and reproductive health in developing countries, opened this talk with a discussion of women’s reproductive health and related statistics. Pathfinder International’s efforts in India attempted to change the pattern of young girls getting married, pregnant, and dropping out of school. From their efforts, they found a 13% increase in use of contraception to delay the first pregnancy and a 19% increase in contraception to space pregnancies. Mane emphasized that change is possible and more efforts should be made to promote reproductive health.

    Priya Agrawal, the Executive Director of Merck for Mothers and Jeni Klugman, a fellow in the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, spoke next. Klugman explained how restrictions on the agency of women are holding back progress around the globe. For example, she described restrictions on abortion do not prevent abortions from occurring, but instead have them done in unsafe manners. In her opinion, reproductive health is central to gender equality.

    Agrawal described why investing in women is a smart economic decision. Providing reproductive health services and contraception to all women who want them would cost $3.6 billion dollars a year, but would generate annual benefits of $432 billion. In other words, each dollar invested in women’s health generates $120 in benefits. In Agrawal’s words, healthy women lead to healthy families, communities, and economies, and “quite frankly, that’s really good for business.”

     

    If you are interested in viewing the full panels, you can watch the tapings at http://www.thechicagocouncil.org/event/womens-health-rewriting-goals.

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  2. Motorcycle use: A global health crisis?

    February 22, 2015 by Arianna Yanes

    The use of motorcycles has been growing around the world, due to the mobility and speed that they offer, as well as affordability. With increased use comes more frequent accidents, making motorcycle use a public health issue around the world. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Burden of Disease study, road accidents are on track to become the fifth leading cause of death in poor countries. Worldwide, 23% of the world’s road traffic deaths occur among motorcyclists, just 8% less than the amount of deaths among car drivers.

    While hefty funds have been raised to combat AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, significantly less attention has been given to motorcycle accidents as a threat to public health. Some have gone so far to say that the world’s motorcycle boom is the “most-overlooked” health crisis.

    In some poorer nations, motorcycles have revolutionized the economy, says Professor Noelle Sullivan, lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Global Health Studies. Though the use of motorcycles is “tremendously costly,” according to Sullivan, the economic benefits reaped contribute to the continual growth of their use. Because people can get around cheaply, selling crops in main markets becomes more accessible. In Tanzania, where Sullivan conducted public health research with a group of Northwestern students this summer, the problem is evident.

    “In 2013 when I visited Tanzania, 3 young motorcycle drivers from one small village died in the course of a single weekend,” Sullivan says. “In 2014, I met a father whose two daughters, ages 5 and 7, were hit by a motorcycle in the main market.”

    Last year, the United Nations General assembly declared 2011-2020 to be the Decade of Action for Road Safety, acknowledging motorcyclists as “vulnerable road users” with “inadequate infrastructure and insufficient policies in place” for their protection. The WHO Global status report on road safety 2013 served as a foundation for this resolution. This report details the lack of motorcycle helmet use around the world, with head injuries among motorcyclists as a growing concern.

    According to the report, motorcyclists comprise one-third of all road traffic deaths in South East Asia and Western Pacific regions. In Europe, head injuries contribute to approximately 75% of deaths among motorcycle users. Proper helmet is encouraged to prevent such injuries and progress has been made in a number of countries in regard to motorcyclist helmet use. While 131 countries had helmet laws applying to both motorcycle drivers and passengers in 2008, 155 countries had laws in 2011. However, enforcement is not strong and only a fraction of the countries with helmet laws have specifications for the quality of helmets.

    The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting joined with the Washington Post to create a Roads Kill Map, visually representing the statistics presented in the WHO’s global report. The road deaths in some countries, such as Thailand, Iran, and Nigeria, are over 30 per 100,000 people, with as much as 73% from motorcycle accidents in Thailand.

    A study detailing motorcycle crashes in Brazil highlights many of the global issues with motorcycle use. By analyzing all fatal motorcycle crashes between January 2001 and December 2009 in Campinas Brazil, the researchers found that 90.8% of the 479 of deaths were male and the mean age was 27.8. This demonstrates the global trend, with young adults aged 15-44 accounting for 59% of global road traffic deaths and 77% of all road traffic deaths occurring among men. young males . Traumatic brain injury was the cause of death in two-thirds of the crashes. Notably, half of the accident victims died before receiving medical attention. This indicates that prevention programs and laws may be the best way to combat this global health crisis.

    Moving forward, education and preventive measures may help to reverse the trend. In Cambodia, a country with 60% of road deaths among motorcycle users, a social marketing campaign was enacted to increase helmet use. Graphic images of a road traffic crash and threat of law enforcement were effective methods of marketing. Additionally, radio advertisements, billboards and TV commercials were used to communicate the messages of the campaign. The results of the program showed high reach and high recall among the target audience. The effects of the program on actual helmet use have yet to be assessed. These types of educational measures, in addition to stronger law enforcement, are necessary to address this public health crisis.


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  3. Northwestern Hosts 2nd Annual Global Health Case Competition

    February 20, 2015 by Emily Drewry

     

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    Participants of Northwestern’s 2nd Annual Global Health Case Competition teamed up February 14th to present solutions to the problem of combining access with accuracy in infant HIV testing in Tanzania. The teams, representing three undergraduate schools and four graduate programs, presented solutions to a panel of judges, including Kara Palamountain, the author of the case. The winning team consisted of Eleanor Burgess, School of Communication; Kaitlyn Kunstman, Feinberg School of Medicine; and Kori Cooper, Marine Coste and Shweta Hosakoppal, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. The team will represent Northwestern at Emory University’s Global Health Case Competition this March.

    The team’s approach, according to Burgess, involved a serial testing model for infant HIV diagnosis. “We made sure that our proposal was equitable across rural and urban regions and incorporated our core principles of community collaboration and sustainability,” she said. The team focused on a variety of issues, including appealing to stakeholders, testing strategies, and resource shortages. “We were also cognizant of the healthcare shortage in these regions,” said Kunstman, “and made a point that we would implement training programs for local community health workers and midwives.”

    In organizing the event, Global Health Program Assistant Chelsea Ducharme sought a case written by a member of Northwestern faculty that offered students the opportunity to apply academic lessons in a realistic scenario. The case itself challenged participants to develop effective roll-out recommendations for infant HIV tests in Tanzania, in the meantime considering challenges such as healthcare providers’ lack of human resources, electricity, and water, and clearly discrepant test-related preferences among higher- and lower-resource organizations.

    Each team presented for ten minutes in front of a panel of Northwestern judges, each with important expertise in the realm of global health at Northwestern. Kara Palamountain, a Research Assistant Professor at the Kellogg School of Management and the Executive Director of the school’s Global Health Initiative, is currently working to develop and produce affordable HIV diagnostics for resource limited settings. Mark Fisher, the Director of Engineering at Northwestern’s Center for Innovation in Global Health Technologies, has vast experience in the medical industry, both in development and strategic positions. Rob Dintruff, a faculty member at Kellogg and a Board Member of Northwestern’s Global Health Foundation, has worked extensively with global health diagnostics and testing programs. The combined experience and skill of each judge was invaluable for students, according to organizer Matt Pietrus. “Both Mark Fisher and Rob Dintruff provided invaluable feedback to the participants,” he said.

    “We were so fortunate that Kara, Mark (Fisher), and Rob (Dintruff) were available and willing to judge the competition based on their involvement in the actual project in 2008,”said Ducharme.

    Echoed Kunstman, “it was very interesting to get the judges’ perspectives on the case, and obviously we were very lucky to have Kara Palamountain herself speak to the unique challenges her team faced while tackling the same case.”

    The competition kicked off with a welcome address by Michael Diamond, Adjunct Lecturer of Global Health Studies, who told students their commitment to global health was admirable. The case competition offers students a chance to “reflect reality,” he said, and complemented the collaborative essence of the competition. “People need to work together for more effect,” he said, “and efforts here signify the opportunity to demonstrate the value of multidisciplinary approach to complex challenges.”

    Each of the eight teams in the competition consisted of students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and cross-schools at Northwestern, offering diverse perspectives that have proved invaluable in global health work. Kunstman, a first year medical student at Feinberg, appreciated the range of her team. “We all brought our own global health experiences to the table, but even more so, we all had different interests and real life experiences to add as well,” she said.

    In the closing remarks of his speech, Diamond stressed the importance of intramural experiences that focus on building expertise in the field of global health. “The world is going to be a better place for what you are doing here,” he told students.

    Competition sponsors: Program of African Studies/Department of Education, Title VI; Global Health Studies/International Program Development; Feinberg’s Center for Global Health; and The Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Studies.

     

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  4. Thoughts from the 2nd Annual Global Health Case Competition

    February 18, 2015 by Emily Drewry

     

    Why was participating in this year’s competition important to you?

    Matt Pietrus, Competition Organizer: Addressing a real world case and working in interdisciplinary teams provides NU students the opportunity to address actual challenges in global health and do so by incorporating multiple perspectives.

    Emily Drewry, Student Advisory Committee: I think it’s great that Northwestern gives students a chance to apply what they’re learning to a realistic case – it’s a very challenging but also incredibly rewarding experience.

    Vaishali Mehta, Participant: I thought it would be interesting to apply concepts from class. Collaborating is the hardest and best part of this experience.

    Sarah El Neweihi, Program Assistant, Center for Global Health: It’s nice to see global health work be used practically by participating students.

    Vineet Aggarwal, Participant: As we’re becoming a more glocal (global & local) society, it’s important to recognize the issues of different countries. The competition highlights the analytic tools for what goes on in the global health process.

    Chelsea Ducharme, Competition Organizer: This event is so significant because it acts as a connector across all these projects, office, fields of study, etc. These challenges can’t be solved without diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.

    Barsha Mishra, Participant: I wanted to learn more about health and human rights; I found it really interesting that this opportunity included students from all schools at Northwestern.

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  5. Elizabeth Larsen speaks at annual Global Health Research Symposium

    February 14, 2015 by Arianna Yanes

    The Northwestern Office for International Program Development (IPD) offers a variety of resources for students interested in pursuing research in public and global health. The 2015 Global Health Research Symposium, hosted on February 12, gave students, faculty, and Northwestern community members the opportunity to learn what students have accomplished in their research the past year.

    “Requiring an international component as well as the courses [for the global health minor] has really fostered and supported independent research,” said Bill Leonard, Global Health Studies Minor Chair. “This is something that we’re looking to expand as we move forward.

    Project topics ranged from barriers to completing school for girls in Uganda to the prevalence of Cesarean sections in Buenos Aires. Elizabeth Larsen, the winner of the 2014 Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant, also presented on her research on grassroots interventions to tackle childhood malnutrition. The $9,000 grant is awarded to one Northwestern junior each year, with the stipulation that the project must take place in at least five different countries on three different continents. The main aim of her project was to find how to catalyze grassroots movements to reach larger scopes. After 10 weeks of travel, she returned with three main takeaways. First, agricultural solutions tend to be the most cost effective, sustainable, and high impact nutrition interventions. Second, younger children, especially first or second borns, systematically show better nutritional outcomes. Lastly, group education classes appear to establish social bonds that increase program impact.

    The symposium brought students and professors from multiple schools within the university. The research posters demonstrated the diversity and breadth of the global health research taking place through Northwestern.

    For students interested in pursuing global health research in the future, IPD has numerous funding opportunities. These grants range from $2,000 to $4,000. Additionally, the Northwestern Office of Fellowships and Undergraduate Research Grants can help in financing these projects.

     

     

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