The Importance of Approaching Global Health Issues from Multiple Perspectives

During her studies at Northwestern University, Christine Klotz (’06) was involved with NU’s GlobeMed chapter. Her involvement in Global Health didn’t stop there.  Read an interview with Christine who now works at World Food Programme (WFP) in Kenya, where she is a nutrition consultant at the 70,000-person Kakuma Refugee Camp.

Christine Klotz and a UNHCR staff member survey the construction site for a new school in a Somali area of Kakuma

Name: Christine Klotz
Major/Minor: European Studies / Italian
Year of Graduation: 2006
Student or Local Group Involvement: GlobeMed, Women’s Varsity Soccer, Campus Kitchens Project
Email: Christine.L.Klotz@gmail.com

What did you do after graduation and where are you now?
After graduation in the summer of 2006, I moved to Quezaltenango, Guatemala, to continue developing a partnership that began during my undergraduate career between a community health-oriented language school (http://www.pop-wuj.org/), the Northwestern University GlobeMed chapter, and a non-profit organization based out of my hometown of Indianapolis (Timmy Foundation).  Long-term objectives of the partnership included personal hygiene education and a patient referral system to link residents of a rural indigenous village with the public city hospital.

In the fall of 2006, I began a Master of Public Health program at George Washington University.  To fulfill my Master’s thesis, I interned at World Food Programme (WFP) headquarters in Rome in 2007, using Bangladesh health survey data to validate various child anthropometric measurements as indicators of food security. The internship led to my current position as a WFP nutrition consultant in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, where I have coordinated a micronutrient supplementation program for the 70,000-person population for the past 2 years.  In July 2010, I will transfer to the WFP operation in Juba to collaborate with the Government of Southern Sudan Ministry of Health and NGO partners in establishing and reviewing policies and programs that incorporate the recent developments in public health nutrition treatment, detection, prevention, and advocacy.

Each refugee receives cooking implements, blankets & sleeping mats, jerry cans, tent roofing materials to construct a more permanent house, and a card which recognizes refugee status and provides access to medical services and to collect a food ration

How did your global health involvement at NU influence your career choice and life in general?
I did not discover the global health department until my last year at Northwestern, which precluded the possibility of a major or minor, although I was able to enroll in two departmental courses as a senior which certainly influenced my life direction – Annamaria Pastore’s “Introduction to Health and Human Rights” and Michael Diamond’s “Managing Global Health Challenges.”  I still remember reading Prof. Diamond’s course description that “the responsibility for ensuring the public health rests with governments at local, national and international levels…interventions require cooperation and partnerships between civil society organizations, corporations, businesses and individuals.” In a departure from what had been a largely theoretical liberal arts education to that point, I appreciated the solution-oriented approach and personal call to action. Other students must have felt the same because the class filled up so fast that I had to audit it!

While the NU courses delved into many complex aspects of emergency humanitarian law and policy, I personally found the cost effective and well-understood mechanism of several interventions to strongly resonate–like, for example, blanket provision of vitamin A capsules for a few cents per infant.  Another amazing aspect of the introductory courses was the variety of NU students they attracted, which underscored the importance of approaching global health issues from multiple perspectives.  The combined factors of the introductory global health courses inspired me to consider post-graduate studies in public health, which has since evolved into a career commitment in emergency humanitarian work.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for current global health students on how to get involved or how to choose their career path in global health?
Try to navigate the delicate tightrope walk between policy and program design and high quality research since reliable data powerfully influence policy and program recommendations but ethical dilemmas may regularly surface.  Regular presentation of your research and/or volunteer experiences at conferences and international forums can also provide invaluable opportunities to interact and collaborate with fellow students and leaders who have engaged in complementary initiatives elsewhere.

What’s one life lesson that you have learned since you started working?
As emphasized in my first global health course at NU, successful public health initiatives require concurrent input from various stakeholders, but I have already experienced in my brief career that coordination remains a major stumbling block in the field.  A key way to mitigate the fragmentation of service delivery in times of competing priorities is emphasis on the beneficiary perspective because a technologically advanced solution can never supersede the cultural relevance of the intervention.  On a personal level, this has translated to regular efforts to engage refugee community groups in the planning and decision making process about the micronutrient supplementation intervention in addition to the usual high level policy makers.

– Christine Klotz is a nutrition consultant for the World Food Programme. The views expressed are hers alone.

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