Global Health Blog

  1. Northwestern Law Students Present Recent International Fieldwork

    April 28, 2016 by Courtney Zhu

    The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s clinical program, the Bluhm Legal Clinic, provides students with a direct, real-world experience representing clients and serving as advocates. On Thursday, April 14, the Center of International Human Rights–one of the clinic’s 14 centers–held its annual presentation for global fieldwork research. Two of the four works presented were part of the Access to Health Project, an interdisciplinary health and human rights project that integrates the clinic’s Center of International Human Rights, the Kellogg School of Management and Feinberg School of Medicine. Students and faculty, through this project, work with a community in the developing world to assess the health needs of that community and innovate a sustainable intervention.

     

    Criminal Justice Reform in Malawi

    By Stephanie Ciupka, Margaret Truesdale, and Alice Murgier

    This project was rooted in Blantyre, Malawi, and its objective was to reduce homicide backlog. In this area, all homicide offenses are charged as murder because little police investigation goes into homicide reporting. As a result, even manslaughter is often charged as murder. Most shockingly, there are only seven public defenders for a population of 661,444 people. The major consequences of this injustice are overcrowded prisons, where inmates have to sleep back-to-back, and defendants on remand for up to a decade. The students in this project collaborated with prosecutors, paralegals and public defenders in Malawi to identity wrongly convicted individuals. These students had the support of the Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (PASI), which deploys trained paralegals to give legal education, advice and assistance to complement the work of the existing criminal justice system in Malawi. Another method to target the issue of prison overcrowding is establishing camp courts, in which the prosecutor, magistrate and clerk travel to the prison.

     

    Landmine Victims in Colombia

    By Montserrat Peniche Hijuelos, Flavio Aurelio Wandeck Filho, and Ana Sophia Merlo

    The Colombian government has developed a project for the eradication of Cocoa; one of their methods is to employ rural, destitute civilians to manually destroy the plants. Cocoa is typically grown in areas where illegal armed forces are prominent, thus there is little government control. The guerilla and paramilitary troops in this area have planted landmines around the plants in order to protect them; stepping on a landmine results in a massive explosion that injures or kills the victim. The presence of landmines has posed a huge threat to the nation’s rural population. Furthermore, the victims do not have access to compensation and disability pensions. For this project, students partnered with CCM, Congreso Colombia de Mineria, to launch an initiative with the goal of raising awareness for this issue and fighting for victim compensation.

     

    Fighting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Mali

    By Alice Murgier, Juliet Sorensen, Anna Maitland, and Shannon Galvin

    FGM includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. In Mali, 91.4% of women have undergone FGM because it is a social and customary practice. These procedures can cause of a number of severe and negative consequences: excessive bleeding, infections due to unsanitary operations, and scar tissue that lead to complication at childbirth, and trauma. Curbing FGM in Mali was the pilot initiative of the Access to Health Project. Students wrote songs in local dialects about public health sanitation and broadcasted them through radio shows; they performed skits through “Troupe de Haire” and educated through theater.

     

    Accessing “Access to Health” Issues in Nigeria

    By Farzeen Tariq, Gergana Peeva, Shannon Galvin, and Juliet Sorensen

    This project aimed to investigate and target issues of maternal health, water and sanitation, malaria, fire safety, and HIV/AIDS. The presentation primarily focused on the first two issues. Family planning and contraception are major concerns, as well as maternal mortality rates. One root of the issue is the lack of basic reproductive and anatomy education. In addition, there is only one midwife in Otodo Gbame, a community in the Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State. She is an elderly woman who cannot travel beyond the limits of her own home, so women in labor have to walk a narrow plank to a boat that takes you across a small stream to reach her home. Furthermore, the issue of sanitation is also a serious matter. Open defecation is often the only option due to faults in basic infrastructure. In addressing these issues, the implementation phase is still ongoing; the team is looking into a comprehensive community education intervention.

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  2. Finding Synergies Between Public Health and Education: An Alumna Interview with Isabel Garcia (SESP 2015)

    April 22, 2016 by Rebecca Haines

    Name: Isabel Garcia (SESP 2015)
    Majors: Social Policy, International Studies
    Minor: Global Health

    IMG_5822What did you do after graduation and where are you now?

    I graduated this past June, and at the end of August I boarded a one-way flight to Mexico City. Thanks to the Princeton in Latin America (PiLA) fellowship, I have spent the past 8 months working with an education policy think tank called Redes de Tutoría. I spend every day working with and thinking about a pedagogical model called tutoría.

    Tutoría promotes individualized learning through one-on-one relationships between a tutor and a learner, with the intention that each learner will transform into a tutor for a future peer, thus transforming one-way “teacher-learner” relationships into bidirectional ones.

    What projects are you currently working on? What’s an average day like for you?

    I write this post from Chihuahua, a northern state about 16 hours away from where I was last week in Mexico City, and about 11 hours from Guachochi, the rural community I will be in next week. This is all to say there is no such thing as an average day.

    I am currently working in the field to help train educational authorities in the model, next week we will train teachers, and the following week we will bring the model into to the classrooms. The central project I worked on this year has been designing a website for teachers practicing tutoría. The website includes a virtual library with a catalogue of all the lesson plans, an interactive map with contact information to connect our teachers, and a space for participants to share their own tutoría lessons as well as their experiences.

    How did your global health studies at NU influence your career choice and even life in general?

    I was introduced to public health as a field through the global health program, which has been the greatest influence on my career choice. Though this year I am not directly working with health, I view my engagement in both health and education not as parallel tracks, but rather, as synergies, and moving forward plan to use tutoría as a tool to decrease health disparities and increase health literacy through education.

    IMG_8509Where did you study abroad and how has it influenced you?

    I studied abroad summer 2013 in Santiago, Chile. My experience abroad inspired a love for Latin America, which has obviously taken me to where I am today. While in Chile, I had the privilege of working with a community health organization grounded in local participation and empowerment. I immersed myself in this participatory model, and learned that the most direct way to teach, and learn, is to initiate dialogue, which has influenced every interaction I have had this year.

    Do you have any advice for students looking for work following graduation?

    The first thing I’ll say is that your first job is not going to be your last job. Though it might feel like your job after college has to be perfect in order to start off on the right foot, have faith that you will get to where you want to go, when it is time to get there. Find that job that makes sense for you right now, in this moment, not the one you want in 10 years.

    (PS. This is coming from someone who supposedly wants to dedicate her life to public health, but has no idea what that will look like yet…and that’s okay.)

    What’s one life lesson that you have learned since you started working?

    Leaving the Northwestern bubble will provide many unexpected, seemingly scary opportunities. Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Living in fear does not protect us; it just prevents us from living our lives.

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  3. Clinton Global Initiatives University 2016

    April 18, 2016 by Odette Zero

     

    Do you have an idea that can bring about social change? Have you already implemented a project that is doing that? The Clinton Global Initiatives University (CGIU) conference is an amazing opportunity that brings together global changemakers, topic experts, celebrities and 1,200 passionate university students from all over the world onto one college campus. This year, IPD was able to send 6 global health minors to sunny Berkeley California, a charming college town a couple of minutes away from bustling San Francisco. Each student or group had to make a “Commitment to Action”, a project idea that they wish to implement at the campus, local or global level, targeted toward one of five focus areas: Education, Environment and Climate Change, Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, or Public Health. The conference includes skill-building sections, topical and celebrity panels, funding opportu12932812_10207720205635771_5569056614369727676_nnities and many possibilities to network with other university students doing similar or different projects around the world.

    Of the 25 Northwestern students who attended the conference, Lakshmi Karuparthy’s commitment to action was to produce two films about malaria: one a documentary showcasing the hardships of an Indian village with malaria, and the other highlighting preventative measures and information about the disease in their native language. Another group commitment to action was the HIRCULES Health Hub, an initiative through the NU Community Health Corps to increase health literacy and improve accessibility to health information in our local community. HIRCULES (Health Information Resource Centers Utilizing Libraries in Evanston and Skokie) is staffed by Northwestern students trained in finding the resources community members need to answer their health-related questions using qualified medical databases, providing synthesized “action cards” and connecting people to local community organizations. The two co-founders and directors, Udita Persaud and myself, also applied for the Resolution Project, a social venture challenge that provides seed funding and extended mentorship for socially responsible leaders creating measurable impact around the world. After a rigorous application and pitching process, the HIRCULES Health Hub was recognized as one of 20 Social Venture Challenge Winners at the CGIU conference. When reflecting on this recognition, Udita told me “the HIRCULES Health Hub was just a mere idea two years ago, and now that people are actually interested in investing in it, it is such an amazing experience…it is rewarding to have others believe in something you have put endless time and care into.” We are both excited to see how the HIRCULES Health Hub continues to grow in the future.

    At the plenary sessions we received advice from global and local leaders on our commitments to action. The first was on the courage to create, where a NASA astronaut, an Egyptian political activist, and the founders of MuslimGirl.Net, Khan Academy and Pinterest talked about their road to success. It was reassuring to hear the narratives of fear and insecurity, overcoming obstacles, and taking the first step from such accomplished and successful people. Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder of MuslimGirl.net,
    told us to not shy away from our narratives of marginalization or struggle, as this is what makes us human. Former president Clinton, a budding anthropologist, told us that human beings at their core want to understand themselves and each other, to find meaning, and that these stories can connect us. This discussion was particularly salient for us university students, all in the development stages of projects that mean so much to us, but seem so far away from completion or success.

    The rest of the day consisted of skill sessions and topical panels on mental health, education in refugee camps, food insecurity and Ebola. Many global health classes talk about the chaos and lack of coordination after the earthquake in Haiti, and then again with the Ebola epidemic, as NGOs and international bodies flocked to the scene. Mohamed Barrie, co-founder of Wellbody Alliance, experienced this all to well with tIMG_6971he “crisis caravan” that arrived in Sierra Leone. He warned us of the danger of “pre-designed programs” for public health interventions that do not take into account the cultural norms of the community – a phenomenon that global health students also fall into after taking a few classes and thinking that they know how to “fix” the global south. Kassia Echavarri-Queen, a member of the Board of Directors for Doctors Without Borders, also discussed the need for community health knowledge when formulating treatment plans for “deeply cultural” diseases such as Ebola. In my opinion, every person involved in global health needs to view the world as an Anthropologist. While the cause of an infectious disease is vector-born, the root of the problem may be cultural. Only through active listening and observation can we hope to understand a problem in a different culture, and only with strong local participation can there ever be a sustainable solution. Governments, according to the Director of Development and External Relations for the Africa Governance Initiative, Dan Hymowitz, are the missing link in global health development and the first body that is ignored in times of crisis.

    My experience at CGIU has revitalized my efforts and expanded my perspective toward my work on the HIRCULES Health Hub. I realized that I am one of many university students all around the world striving to create a better future, and that we do not have to wait until after graduation or far into the future to start bringing about change in our local and global communities.

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  4. Sex and Health

    April 13, 2016 by Virginia Nowakowski

    Sex Week is kicking off at Northwestern. Events range from free handouts of candy and condoms at The Rock to presentations about marriage, burlesque or the BDSM movement. Promotion of sex-positive and sex-related topics without a shred of shyness seems completely regular for a college campus atmosphere, but it’s also becoming more common in other places too.

    Throughout Chicago it’s possible to see dozens of billboards advertising PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is a pill taken daily to prevent HIV in HIV-negative people who may be living in communities affected by HIV. Headlines about the effectiveness of a “female Viagra” and the sexual transmission of the Zika virus top news feeds every week. Although many historians suggest that people have long been fascinated by how sex can impact the body, Professor Steve Epstein noted that there is a changing climate in relation to sex and health in a lecture at the Evanston Public Library on Tuesday night.

    “Today we take it for granted, I think, that to talk about sex is to talk about health and to talk about health is to talk about sex and it wasn’t always that way.”

    Sex has only recently been viewed through the perspective of health discourses. The World Health Organization first defined the term “sexual heath” in 1975, as a “state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality.” In contrast to a more Victorian concern with morals surrounding sex, WHO focuses on physical and emotional health benefits, stating that good sexual health “requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences.”

    Since WHO’s inclusion of sex as a health concept, numerous campaigns have included or neglected the specific term in an attempt to appeal to wider audiences. Epstein showed a clip of an advertisement Gardasil, the first HPV shot, using it as an example of a campaign that steered clear of any mention of “sexual health”.

    “This early advertising for Gardasil featured a multi-ethnic assortment of well-informed assertive girls engaged in healthy physical activities and conversing with their mothers about the vaccine,” Epstein said. “The specter of sexuality is kept entirely at bay. No potential heterosexual partners—no males, period— invade the frame of the ads”

    The choice to neglect any mention sex was a calculated one. Approved in 2006, Merck & Co.’s HPV shot was marketed to adolescent girls. Gardasil’s supporters worried that ads talking about sexual transmission of HPV might dissuade moral-oriented parents from vaccinating their children, for fear of “promoting promiscuity.” Instead, they focused solely on the aim of preventing cervical cancer. After experiencing success, supporters began to discuss the benefits of receiving HPV shots to protect against the sexual transmission of HPV, while still focusing on the prevention of cancer. With this new view, shots began to be widely offered to adolescent males in 2013.

    Other treatments and preventions, like the heavily advertised PrEP, purposefully employ the term “sexual health” to further their campaigns. Filbanserin, more commonly known by the brand name Addyi or “female Viagra” became publicly available this past fall. Supporters of the drug, which treats hypoactive sexual desire disorder, a type of female sexual dysfunction, hailed it as a step toward equity for women’s health, pointing out that there are “26 FDA-approved treatment options for men’s sexual dysfunction and only 1 for women”. At the same time, the drug has been scrutinized multiple times, with many reviewers criticizing both its effectiveness and side effects.

    Epstein said that these somewhat conflicting discourses are to be expected as sex continues to be seen through a perspective of health. Despite the intricacies of the term “sexual health” and the pressures to deliver answers for different problems, it is likely that people will continue to use the term to explore more questions surrounding sex and the well-being of the human mind and body.

    “In part because of its ambiguity, in part because of the positive valences of health appear to cancel out the potentially negative valences of sexual [behavior]… sexual health has become the convenient buzzword for a host of topics which, once billed under that label, seem more difficult to oppose,” Epstein said. “Much as it seems to not just be morally unconscionable but almost logically impossible to stand against health…so “sexual health” has come to be seen as an undeniable good— whatever the term is taken to connote”

     

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  5. Flint Water Crisis: A Story of Environmental Racism

    March 31, 2016 by Courtney Zhu

    In April of 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan changed its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure. Filled with industrial chemicals, waste, sewage, and road salts, this river was undoubtedly unfit for drinking. Immediate complaints about its unusual odor, taste, and color were ignored. The local government turned a blind eye, issuing a public statement saying, “Flint water is safe to drink.”

    It is now April of 2016. Two years later, the city of Flint bears an inevitable association with ‘lead poisoning’. The Flint water crisis resulted from the confluence of shortcomings on multiple fronts: Governor Rick Snyder’s sluggish response, the Environmental Protection Agency’s unwillingness to aid, and the faulty investigation of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

    The crisis has incited turmoil in the political sphere. Snyder failed to handle the issue, municipal leaders ignored immediate health concerns, and the Republican-led Congress did not contribute a single dollar to aiding Flint. The onslaught of political debate has overshadowed the dire health situation that underlays this lead-poisoning crisis and obscures the real leaders who can drive Flint’s recovery.

    Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and her team of doctors at Hurley Medical Center found startling levels of lead in the blood of Flint’s children that they treated. The publication of her research forced the dismissive local government to acknowledge the water crisis in the fall of 2015, more than an entire year after the city switched its water source.

    This delay may have caused irreparable harm to 8,000 children. Even the tiniest bit of lead can profoundly affect young children because their bodies are still developing. Lead exposure can damage nervous systems–affecting growth, behavior, and intelligence. It is also linked to problems with attention, motor coordination, and violent behavior.

    Unfortunately, evidence for such consequences is obsolete. Behavioral and mental health implications may take years to manifest, so it is difficult to estimate the scope of this problem. However, it could affect an entire generation’s culture and life chances.

    If lead poisoning is tied to aggressive behavior, rates of crime and violence could spike in ten or twenty years. The debilitating impact on a child’s intellectual development can lead to lifelong learning disabilities. And disrupting physical development can place more obstacles than those that already exist.

    The water crisis’s effect on children will inevitably determine Flint’s future allocation of resources, especially in the realm of education; it costs nearly double to educate a child with special needs.

    What’s most devastating about this situation is that Flint residents were already suffering from poverty and resource deficits. Investing funds, time, and resources into the water crisis–and its implications–takes away from Flint’s other needs: education development, access to healthcare, aid for homeless shelters, and basic infrastructure.

    Since the media coverage of the contamination escalated along with public outrage, progress has been made. On January 16th of this year, President Obama declared a state of emergency, appropriating $5 million in aid for Flint and the surrounding county. $28 million has been allocated to Flint by Snyder for emergency state spending. Doctors at the Hurley Medical Center are focusing on improving childhood nutrition and expanding education programs like Head Start, a federally-funded preschool program for low-income students.

    A few weeks ago, Snyder delivered a 116-page chronicle of how the water crisis came about. “The Flint water crisis is a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice,” it declared.

    This problem exemplifies an all too familiar American reality: environmental racism. Flint’s residents are 57% black, and 40% live below the poverty line. This is an impoverished, majority-black community that faced immense inaction from the American bureaucracy. If the United States is serious about eradicating health disparities, particularly among marginalized groups, this kind of preventable crisis cannot be repeated.

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