Global Health Blog

  1. Plagues of the Past, Present and Future: A Visit from Laurie Garrett

    May 19, 2015 by Emily Drewry

    IMG_1279As a way to celebrate 20 years of global engagement and scholarship, the Buffett Institute invited a series of esteemed speakers to address the Northwestern community. The afternoon of May 15th, guests had the opportunity to hear from Laurie Garrett, one of America’s leading voices in the field of global health. Her talk, entitled “From AIDS to Ebola: What Have We Learned?” offered a comprehensive history of plagues throughout human history, deftly linking the epidemics of the past with those that have taken place recently.

    Garrett’s familiarity with plagues is well recognized in the global health community at Northwestern; as mentioned by NU lecturer Michael Diamond, her books are frequently assigned to students within the global health curriculum. Garrett has been widely recognized for her writings, as the only individual to win the Pulitzer Prize, the Peabody Award, and the Polk Award.

    “I’ve always been fascinated with plagues,” Garrett began her talk, “for the social, historical, economic, and governmental dimensions.” The interdisciplinary paths of her talk emerged early on and provided listeners with a comprehensive understanding of how plagues fit into both the historical and current context.

    Garrett began her talk with a chronological description of the great plagues of the world, from the Black Death in Europe to the plague in Surat, India of 1994, to more recent outbreaks of HIV, SARS, MRSA and Ebola. Each time she wove another thread into the patchwork of the global health history, she brought out the commonalities between the devastation behind these epidemics: that of stigma, fear, and misunderstanding.

    In the case of the most recent Ebola outbreak in 2014, the 21st known outbreak of the disease, the world “ignored prior outbreaks, warnings of the environment, and the increased probability of outbreaks,” says Garrett. The world had no diagnostic tools, no surveillance, no vaccine, and no known treatment, leaving medical workers and communities horribly underprepared for the outbreak. In fact, from the very beginnings of the most recent strain, a lack of communication between the governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as delayed action by the WHO, created a precarious delay in response. This lapse in preparedness struck Garrett as a “breakdown in solidarity and collaboration in global health.”

    Garrett’s perspective as an active leader in the global health field allows her critical understanding of the factors involved in a large-scale epidemic. As a Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, Garrett remains active in the field, modestly speaking of her involvement as she told the stories of plagues through past decades. In fact, her work and dedication to the field were clear and invaluable for all in attendance of her talk.

    In his remarks following Garrett’s talk, Professor Diamond spoke of his admiration for Garrett, praising her holistic approach to understanding global health, as well as her recognition of the heroism of people on the ground.

    In fact, Garrett spoke repeatedly of the power of grassroots action throughout both the Ebola and HIV epidemics. It was the communities’ responses that made massive changes in numbers of cases and diminishing the spread of both epidemics, she said repeatedly, while not undermining the impressive efforts of grossly understaffed and resource-deficient healthcare workers.

    As for the question of what we have learned in studying the plagues of the past to the present: Garrett clearly believes it to be the organized and thoughtful preparation for epidemics before they escalate. Her talk highlighted various points during each outbreak that could have been avoided or scaled down by improved methods of communications between political, economic, or social structures. Outbreaks cannot be understood without each piece of the puzzle, and her talk deftly provided a look at both the puzzles and improvements in hindsight with the skill of someone well immersed in the world of global health.

    The scripts of outbreaks may be predictable, said Helen Tilley, Director of Science in Human Culture and Associate Professor of History, in her comments following Garrett’s talk. Each time a new disease emerges in full force, society sees the following aspects: confusion of its origin, heightened stigma, intense fear, political divisiveness, and religious explanations. It is preparedness for and education about these scripts that will help the world react to future outbreaks. In fact, said Tilley, “epidemics hold up a mirror to society.”

    The lecture, followed by comments from Diamond, Tilley, and Northwestern alumnus Victor Roy, gave attendees a fascinating look into how epidemics have changed, yet stayed the same, over centuries. The recommendations for improvements were realistic, interdisciplinary, and spoke to the immense challenges that face the global health community in the future. “The next epidemic will come,” concluded Garrett, “and it could be worse.”

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  2. Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement: An Ingenious Grassroots Organization

    May 6, 2015 by Lajja Patel

    Sri Lanka

    Sri Lanka is a multicultural and multilingual country that has had a long history of armed conflict. Sri Lanka’s rich multiethnic communities that make it a diverse country today were once a source of conflict that led to lasting civil war. In the colonial era, the Portuguese, Dutch, and British tried to colonize Sri Lanka, however, in 1948, the country gained its independence. In 1956, the passage of the Sinhala Only Act, which declared Sinhalese to be the official language of Sri Lanka, caused internal turmoil. The Tamil speaking communities violently opposed the passage of the Sinhala Only Act and organized into Tamil militant groups. Communal violence broke out in 1983 followed by a civil war that lasted twenty-six years, ending in 2009.

    Last week, the Buffett Institute, Northwestern IPD, Center for Forced Migration Studies, EDGS, and Department of Religious Studies co-hosted a lecture titled “A Holistic Approach to Development and Peace Building: the Sarvodaya Movement in Sri Lanka.”  The guest speaker was Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, General Secretary of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, which is Sri Lanka’s largest non-governmental grassroots development organization.

    While Sri Lankans are in the post-war era today, the impact of the war is experienced daily on the economy and the livelihood of individuals.

    In order to promote social change in the post-war era, the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, which originally started forty-seven years ago, has successfully mobilized 15,000 out of Sri Lanka’s 38,000 villages to engage in a process of self-help and self-development initiatives. Sarvodaya Shramadana is an intriguing movement because it is based off Buddhist teachings that encourage psychological transformations at the individual level prior to addressing social and economic development.

    The Sarvodaya movement insists that changing the consciousness of individuals and allowing them to feel empowered is a critical step in initiating economic and social development. Participants of the Sarvodaya movement practiced kindness, altruistic joy, equanimity, and compassionate actions through meditation and community programs. In addition, the four principles of social conduct – sharing, pleasant language, sharing of motivation/energy – were also practiced at the individual level. Only after individuals went through a “Personality Awakening” were they trained for social infrastructure development and economic development strategies.

    The Sarvodaya idea of first altering the psychosphere and spiritual forces to counter violence and social stagnancy is ingenious. Sarvodaya is a unique movement because unlike most organizations, it doesn’t tackle the issue of economic development until the community has been mobilized with capable elected officials. Other organizations, such as Kiva, try to transform communities by starting with economic development through microlending. In contrast, the Sarvodaya movement is a holistic approach to development and peace building since it begins by encouraging an individual awakening prior to addressing the larger problems facing the community. The Sarvodaya model is particularly ingenious for a multiethnic and multilingual country such as Sri Lanka because the movement aims at first uniting people of different backgrounds. In order to make long-lasting changes, the citizens must take it upon themselves to initiate self-help. Therefore, the process of “Personality Awakening” is critical to creating self-sustaining developments.

    As a result of the Sarvodaya Movement, significant progress has been made in terms of resettlement and infrastructure development, with slow progress towards reconciliation and addressing the root causes of war.

    The Sarvodaya mission’s long-term goals are to create lasting peace, promote enduring community, and secure a certain quality of life in Sri Lanka. Ultimately, the Sarvodaya mission hopes to initiate discussion about the root causes of the war.

     

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  3. Teju Cole visits to talk about the White Savior Industrial Complex

    April 25, 2015 by Arianna Yanes
    Northwestern community members listen intently to Teju Cole address the White Savior Industrial Complex.

    Northwestern community members listen intently to Teju Cole address the White Savior Industrial Complex.

    Teju Cole opened his presentation with a video clip. A white girl with shaggy bangs and a colorful headband plays her violin while another sings Rihanna’s song, We Found Love. The scene cuts and we discover that she is in Africa, playing her violin and smiling among native Africans, from the classroom to the field.. From the classroom to the field, she interacts with the Africans. The clip ends with her reflecting on this life-changing, sentimental experience.

    “There’s something going on in a video like that that is worthy of our attention and our worry,” Teju Cole said to the crowd that nearly filled Leverone Hall.

    It’s what he calls the White Savior Industrial Complex. The concept is that white people go to Africa thinking they can do good and solve problems without first consulting the local people on what the problems they face truly are.

    “If we are going to interfere in the lives of others,” Cole writes in the Atlantic, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.”

    There is an air of superiority and a desire for sentimentality associated with the complex. In a series of tweets that garnered attention, Cole wrote, “The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.”

    Cole described how when white people travel to Africa to help, their hand that gives is above the hand that receives. This element of superiority and supremacy in the “exchanges” creates a one directional flow of favors being done from one group for the other.

    To illustrate his point, Cole created the character Brad, admittedly hoping that nobody in the crowd was named Brad. Brad is a nineteen-year-old white boy from Minnesota. He goes to Haiti to do medical missions, yet he knows essentially nothing about medicine.

    “You think the people don’t know that Brad is nineteen?” Cole asked the crowd. “They’re poor, not dumb.”

    Brad leaves Haiti feeling accomplished and fulfilled, with a new Facebook profile picture in tow. The profile picture is one we’ve all seen before: Brad crouching down with a few African children near him smiling. What you would never find on Facebook, Cole elucidates, is a picture of Brad with a homeless man in a shelter in Minneapolis.

    “Happy African children are available in that way,” Cole said.

    Cole was not condemning all aid. What he was saying is that we need more constellational thinking, Cole said. Similarly to how we look at the stars and draw lines between them to make shapes, we need to look at events, causes, and effects and connect them to each other to create understanding. Aid has to be applied strategically and carefully with know-how and knowledge, Cole explained. The first question we should always ask is, “How much do I not know about the situation I’m stepping into?” It is respectable to want to provide aid and relieve suffering in the world. However, for this to happen, Cole believes you must leave your sense of superiority first.

    “Unbalance is inefficient,” Cole said. It does not succeed as much as it fails.

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  4. Emory Adventure: Finding Global Health Solutions for Central America

    April 3, 2015 by Guest Bloggers

    By guest blogger Eleanor Burgess

    Photo Credit: Emory GHI (@emoryghi) | Twitter

    Photo Credit: Emory GHI (@emoryghi) | Twitter

    Few settings are more suited for developing Global Health solutions than Emory University, and the Northwestern team made the most of our experience there at the 2015 International Global Health Case Competition. The cherry trees were in full bloom, and petals fell softly through the air as all 24 teams from the United States, Denmark, and Australia walked from our tour of the CDC to our Friday workday locations. We experienced a taste of the South, enjoying biscuits and grits for breakfast, and Southern comfort food for dinner including baked beans, pulled pork, banana pudding and of course lots of sweet tea.

    The case stretched us to the limit: we had only a week to solve the pervasive problem of Gun Violence in Honduras.This interesting case was outside of our medical experiences, but ultimately allowed us to dive into the difficult social, economic, and health situation in Honduras. Our solution targeted new gang-member recruitment in Honduras to stop the vicious cycle of violence. We proposed a multi-pronged solution, and our Saturday morning presentation was selected as one of the four final round presentations! Myself and my all-girl team of four intelligent ladies, Katie Kunstman, Kori Cooper, Shweta Hosakoppal, and Marine Coste, presented our final round solution to a huge room full of all the other teams and a panel of eight judges. After our presentation, we had to think quickly on our feet to answer the judges’ tough questions to the best of our knowledge and ability.

    After a reception spent networking with fellow participants, we found out we had been awarded fourth place and that we had won some money for our efforts. This experience was intense, occasionally stressful, and exciting throughout the process. I am glad that I had this opportunity, and I thank Northwestern for covering the flight costs so my whole team could compete in this intellectual and extremely interesting competition. I wish good luck to next year’s Northwestern team participants.

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  5. 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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