Global Health Blog

  1. Global Development Roundtable: Cultural Competency

    February 10, 2016 by Allison Park

    10336651_1675347559390948_5524360276728288219_nAt the Buffet Institute on Thursday night, students of all disciplines came together to discuss issues of cultural competency in international aid and research. The roundtable discussion— organized by Engineering World Health, Engineers Without Borders, and Global Brigades—provided the opportunity for both undergraduate students and professors to share their experiences and opinions on the matter. Professors Noelle Sullivan, Sara Hernandez, and Stephen Hill all have considerable experience living and conducting research abroad. Noelle Sullivan is a cultural and medical anthropologist in the Global Health Studies Program who has completed years of research on international volunteering. Prior to coming to Northwestern to teach economics, Sara Hernandez conducted field research on economic development in a number of countries throughout South Asia and Africa, with a particular focus on gender and labor economics. Stephen Hill, an anthropology lecturer and senior associate director at the Office of Fellowships, spent half a decade in Tanzania both as a researcher and a Peace Corps volunteer.

    A large portion of this discussion focused on the impossible nature of cultural competency. Most everyone who had worked abroad — from undergraduates who have traveled abroad for a week to professors who have worked in the same country over the past 13 years—expressed frustration in trying to overcome cultural barriers. In large part, overcoming these cultural barriers simply takes time. Stephen Hill argues that, “The more time you have in a country, the more effective you will be. There’s always a curve of productivity. It probably plateaus out at some point, but that point I would say is probably two, three, maybe four years.” Unfortunately, this answer may frustrate most undergraduates who are unable or unwilling to commit more than a couple of weeks or months to these volunteer and research trips.

    The conversation also explored topics inextricably linked to cultural competency, including the White Industrial Savior Complex and power dynamics. Several compelling points were brought up that complicated the traditional narratives around these problems. For example, it should be noted that its not only foreigners that hold power with their access to capital and resources, but local individuals with their understandings of and connections to the political, social and economic environment as well. Noelle Sullivan explained that the matter is much more complicated than its black and white depiction in the media. Volunteers are not saving the world, nor are they narcissistic neocolonialists, as the truth is much more in between.

    12644943_1675347569390947_2483144720853421659_n

    In turn, representatives from the three host clubs shared the measures they have taken to combat the matters discussed, such as Engineering Without Borders’ yearly assessments of their ongoing project. Those conducting volunteer and research work abroad should do their homework—find out if you can make any connections ahead of time, talk to those who have visited the region before, and read all that you can about the region’s culture and history.

    Stephen Hill illustrated the ambiguous nature of cultural competency and international aid with his closing remark, “I argue simultaneously that you should, number one, dedicate at least five years of your life before you have any clue about what you are doing, and number two, that even five minutes is worth it. Definitely, definitely, do the five minutes.”

    This roundtable was the first in what the organizers see becoming a monthly or quarterly series on global development issues. Be sure to keep an eye out for more discussions to come!

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  2. Making Health Care More Accessible, Affordable and Human — A Global Health Alumna Interview with Rachel Park (WCAS 2010)

    December 11, 2015 by Drew Gerber

    Rachel Park, WCAS ’10
    Majors: Economics, International Studies
    Minor: Global Health

    Rachel Park graduated from Northwestern just as the Affordable Care Act began to completely reshape the landscape of health care in the U.S, something that drastically increased the number of Americans with health insurance and spurred dramatic changes in how health care works.

    Joining the health and sciences practice of Oliver Wyman, a global management consulting firm, Park spent four years working with health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and global health organizations all over the country.

    Versailles_18.JPGPark said the global health program at Northwestern ignited her curiosity about health care, and that her experience studying abroad through IPD at Sciences Po in Paris had a profound effect on her understanding of the way health care systems function.

    “It helped me realize that I was passionate about helping improve the U.S. health care system,” she said. “I have no doubt that my time in Paris is what gave me the fluency to get through my interviews and work with big clients in the health care industry.”

    While at Oliver Wyman, Park had the opportunity to take a five-month sabbatical sponsored by the firm to work at Partners in Health in Boston, an organization that Park has admired since learning about it at Northwestern.

    Park worked with Jon Shaffer, the senior strategist for community organizing (and a fellow Northwestern alum), to launch a brand-new initiative called PIH Engage, which is a nationwide network of volunteers. PIH Engage seeks to build a movement to advance the right to health through community organizing, education, advocacy and fundraising, she said.

    Currently pursuing an MBA and a Master’s in Public Health at the University of California–Berkeley, Park spent the past summer interning with the Native American Health Center, a federally qualified health center in Oakland, California.

    Working through the Community Wellness Department in the Fruitvale neighborhood, she helped provide medical, dental and mental health services to residents of all backgrounds — though the NAHC has special expertise in serving the urban Native American community in the Bay Area, she said.

    With the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the resulting increase in people with health coverage, the Community Wellness Department has begun to factor in the role of insurance in their business model, something that Park helped study and model.

    “(The department) addresses people’s health needs through everything from Native American spiritual ceremonies and cultural events to traditional individual and group psychotherapy,” Park said. “Given these unique offerings, the department has traditionally been mostly grant-funded, with insurance playing a secondary role.

    Park said she spent her summers while in college at a wide array of internships, from a Fortune 200 corporation, on-campus at the Institute for Policy Research, and even in a communal house in post-Katrina New Orleans.

    However, it isn’t worth agonizing over which internship or activity is “best,” she said. Instead, she said it is important to think about what opportunities will help you learn something new, which can be shaped into the kind of experience you want.

    “It’s easy to get paralyzed by the number of choices in front of you or to be tempted to create a perfect story ahead of time,” Park said. “(My internships) didn’t make for an easy story on my cover letter, but I did learn a ton through each of those summers.”

    Regardless of whether an internship goes the way you expected, there’s always something you can learn about yourself, other people or institutions, Park said.

    “Over time, this process of reflection will help you articulate the values you won’t compromise on, what types of people you want to work for, how much structure you want in a job, and more,” she said.

    Though Park said she hated the concept of networking in college, she has come to realize it is really just about genuinely getting to know other people and figuring out ways you can work together. By being open to approaching people with curiosity about their lives and their perspective on the world, you’ll find that people love talking about themselves and their work, she said.

    “Have a good conversation. Send an interesting article about something you talked about,” Park said. “The health care world is a less intimidating place to try this out since many of us are working toward the same shared mission to make health care more accessible, affordable and human.”

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  3. Jeffrey Sachs: SDGs and the Path to Universal Healthcare Coverage

    November 30, 2015 by Odette Zero

    photoWe live in a dangerous world, according to Jeffrey D. Sachs, with “horrific” terrorism attacks such as those in Paris and Beirut challenging our trust in humanity. However, it is in these moments when the world must come together in solidarity and peace, as 150 world leaders are converging in Paris for the next two weeks to discuss a global plan of action for climate change. Last week, Sachs, a world-renowned economist and senior UN adviser, urged an auditorium of Northwestern University faculty and medical, law, and undergraduate students to engage with the world as problem solvers, not just as scientists or observers.

    Sachs was the keynote speaker of a two-day interdisciplinary symposium on Equality, Development, and Globalization in Global Health on November 19 at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

    On September 25, 2015 the UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2016-2030, the legacy of the Millennium Development Goals that shaped and influenced aid and development around the world for the past 15 years.

    sdgs_global_graphicThe SDGs aim to achieve universal health and wellbeing by 2030, and Sachs believes that this goal is finally within reach. He focuses on the third SDG goal: “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”, which addresses universal care, wellness and the absence of illness for the full human life cycle.

    SDG Target 3.8 states: “Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.”

    But what is the path to universal healthcare coverage? Sachs analyzed this problem through the social, economical and environmental obstacles that prevent health for all. Poverty has been proven to be the most powerful social determinant of health, from the neighborhoods of Chicago to the Global South. In 1990, 37% of the world was living in poverty (having a GDP below $1.9 international price). In 2015, only 9.6% of the 7.5 billion people in the world live in poverty. However, this year, 6 million children out of the 2 billion humans who are poor or near poor, died before the age of 5, and this is a horrible and, worse, preventable tragedy.

    Cost of health treatment has been decreasing as quality of care has been increasing in recent years. According to Sachs, primary health systems in low-income settings require $70-80 per person each year. It is this simple fact that leads Sachs to believe that universal healthcare coverage is within reach using our global health problem solving skills, as well as our pocketbooks. Sachs’s argument is that this $70 – the price of a concert ticket in Chicago, a new pair of headphones, or half of a chemistry textbook, can fill the financing gap to provide quality healthcare coverage for someone who has to walk 10 Km to a clinic lacking in staff and medicine. How this $70 is actually used in practice is something that he, as an economist, has left for the global health leaders of the world to figure out. Someday, these people will be us.

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  4. Working Toward Positive Change — A Global Health Alumna Interview with Grace Galloway (WCAS 2013)

    November 20, 2015 by Drew Gerber

    Grace Galloway, WCAS 13
    Major: Psychology
    Minors: Global Health, English

    Grace Galloway has always known that she wanted to work internationally, to join the fight to make the world a better and more equal place.

    However, she said it wasn’t until she studied abroad through the International Program Development office’s Public Health in Uganda program in 2012 that she learned how to put her interests and drive to work.

    Grace Galloway hikes a volcano in Panama while working with Global Brigades

    Grace Galloway hikes a volcano in Panama while working with Global Brigades.

    She described her trip to Uganda as very hands-on, saying it became clear to her that any type of development work can’t happen without a healthy population.

    “Global health not only influenced my career choice, it is my career choice,” Galloway said.

    Galloway credited her global health classes with expanding her worldview and providing her with the language and knowledge needed to take on issues that may seem “impossible to take on.”

    While completing her undergraduate degree at Northwestern, Galloway participated frequently in the Alternative Student Breaks program, which engages students in service-learning at nonprofits across the U.S. By participating in ASB, she saw first-hand the challenges and got to be part of the successes of nonprofit work.

    “I would recommend taking advantage of either ASB, Peer Health Exchange or any of the other amazing service organizations on NU’s campus,” Galloway said.

    During senior year, Galloway spent a lot of time at the Office of Fellowships, which she said gave her the relationships and connections to learn about international job opportunities. Her first job following graduation, working from Panama City as a program associate for a health and development organization called Global Brigades, came through her brother who had volunteered with the organization before.

    While working with Global Brigades, Galloway worked with student teams of medical and public health volunteers to assist local and foreign health professionals with clinic work in rural communities. Preparing the student teams for what to expect in Panama included everything from telling them what to wear in the heat and what medications are needed to host a successful clinic, she said.

    Grace Galloway stands in front of Deering Library at NU with her father (an NU alum!)

    Grace Galloway stands in front of Deering Library at Northwestern with her father (an NU alum!)

    In addition to her work with students, Galloway also followed up on the program’s composting latrine public health projects, which meant discussing with the local families how the latrines function as well as calculating the project’s success rates.

    Galloway recently finished her two-year contract with Global Brigades and now works in southern Nicaragua as a Princeton in Latin America Fellow.

    Galloway said she first heard of the Princeton fellowship her senior year at Northwestern, but didn’t apply until this year. After a long and “grueling” process, comprising an application and nearly four rounds of interviews, Galloway now works with Comunidad Connect, which combines sustainable tourism with development work.

    In her time in global health and development work, Galloway has learned a vital lesson: “Change is slow. Very, very slow,” she said.

    “Humans are stubborn. We make changes — often for the better — but these changes take time and adjustment,” Galloway said. “A career in community development is one of small victories and slow, but steady, changes.”

    While she made a connection with Global Brigades through her brother, Galloway said all of her friends and co-workers have taken different paths to the jobs they have now — but all their paths involved networking. She said knowing how the people you know can help guide you to opportunities is key, in addition to having confidence in yourself.

    “Northwestern global health students are smart, driven and well-prepared,” she said. “We need to get out there and start working toward positive change.”

     

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  5. Radulovacki Global Health Research Fellows Anna Rietti and Petrina LaFaire And Health Care For All

    November 18, 2015 by Drew Gerber

    This summer, Anna Rietti and Petrina LaFaire traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to research whether noise levels harmed infant health at a local hospital as part of the Radulovacki Global Health Research Fellowship, which helps fund student research.

    Tell us about your project. What inspired your work?

    Anna Rietti and Petrina LaFaire explore South Africa.

    Anna Rietti and Petrina LaFaire explore South Africa.

    For 10 years, students from Northwestern University enrolled in the University of Cape Town’s Global Healthcare Technologies program have been designing devices to improve health care in Western Cape Province. These projects have been done in collaboration with local nurses, doctors, and health care administrators. One area of focus has been infant care, especially in NICUs (neonatal intensive-care units) and Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC). Students have developed concepts for breathing monitors, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and phototherapy; all of which can be used in either the NICU or KMC environment.

    This specific project was started at the request of Dr. Lucy Linley, the head neonatologist at the Mowbray Maternity Hospital (MMH). Dr. Linley was concerned that the noise levels in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) were too high, and worried about the potential harm this might pose to the infants.

    How did your experience on the ground vary from your expectations?

    Our experience while in Cape Town was definitely different than our expectations. We had tried to prepare so that we could begin research upon arrival, however due to miscommunications we did not have in-country ethics approval when we arrived. Therefore we were unable to accomplish much of what we had wanted to do. However, instead we were able to work with the staff of the hospital to further develop our project, and talk with them about our project and other health concerns of the region.

    What was your most meaningful experience abroad, and what did it teach you?

    IMG_6642After taking global health classes, we heard about shortages in hospitals and people in need. However, my time abroad was the first time that we came face to face with what to us were concepts on paper, but to many is daily life. Health disparities in Cape Town are huge. They run from privately run hospitals with suite-style rooms to community health clinics where patients come before sunrise and wait hours to be treated. There were some constants between the two drastically different health care providers though. The staff, everywhere we went, was dedicated and passionate about helping patients. Staff said the same thing at each location: they lacked sufficient health care workers.

    What was your most challenging moment, and how did you cope?

    Our most challenging moment was definitely discovering that we did not have the correct in-country approval. We worked with our mentor, Dr. Linley, as well as other contacts in the Western Cape to try and get expedited approval from the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC). Unfortunately, we were unable to get approval during our stay. Anticipating this, we trained a resident intern at the hospital in the use of our sound level meter and research procedure. She is in the process of conducting data recordings and will send the information to us soon. We’re excited it’s finally happening.

    Did you encounter any cultural differences that required getting used to?

    Post-apartheid South Africa is only 20 years old. There are many remnants of the old regime in many of the actions. Race is a big issue and it is very openly discussed. We really tried to gain a deeper understanding of the culture by visiting different historical landmarks, like the District 6 Museum and Robben Island. We also talked with some of our local friends about race issues.

    On a lighter note, there were also some dialect aspects that had some funny consequences. They speak British English, where ‘chips’ mean French fries. Once at a restaurant we ordered chips and guacamole. Our waiter seemed confused when we ordered, but placed it and returned soon afterwards with French fries and guacamole.

    In terms of our project, one other cultural difference was that nurses are called “sisters” — even male nurses. We noticed generally that when referring to people, even strangers, people would call one another “sister,” “brother,” and “my friend.” It highlighted the community-oriented society that exists.

    Has your summer experience impacted your future goals and interests at Northwestern or after?

    Researching abroad has definitely reinforced our desire to continue working to improve health care for all.

    Do you have any advice for students wishing to conduct research in an unfamiliar location?

    For students wishing to conduct research abroad, we would tell them to definitely go for it! Take advantage of the opportunity provided to follow your passion in a foreign country. Get to know people who live in the area and try to experience the daily life.

     

     

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