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The Road Less Traveled – Public Health Graduate School Fair

Northwestern hosted its first annual Public Health Graduate School Fair on October 19 at the Norris University Center. Students interested in everything from working in global health roles to starting their own nonprofits attended to talk to representatives from graduate programs about how a degree in public health can help them reach their goals.

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Pakistan’s Floods: An Unprecedented Humanitarian Crisis

(from left to right): Dr. Asher Hasan, Dr. Rashid Chotani, Asad Hayauddin, Todd Shea

If you widened the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans by five times, this would be the scale of devastation that occurred due to the recent flood of the Indus River in Pakistan, said Todd Shea, one of the presenters at the October 14th Pakistan Symposium sponsored by the Northwestern University Center for Global Health. Mr. Shea, along with Dr. Rashid Chotani and Dr. Asher Hasan, participated in the symposium entitled “Pakistan’s Floods: An Unprecedented Humanitarian Crisis.”

The three presenters painted a picture of the aftermath of the Pakistan floods to an audience of nearly 100 people. Also in attendance was Consul Trade and Commerce for the Consulate General of Pakistan Chicago, who participated in the final question and answer panel.

Dr. Asher Hasan, of Naya Jeevan for Kids, a social enterprise that provides micro-insurance for the urban poor, began by telling the story from the perspective of two young girls whose villages were destroyed. He explained that “trade, not aid” is really the best way to help Pakistan recover from this tragedy. Dr. Hasan demonstrated the Pakistan Resource Finder (http://pakistan.resource-finder.appspot.com/), which is a tool that allows users to search for and map medical resources and infrastructure throughout the country. He then explained his organization’s hub-and-spoke method for providing healthcare to some of the most rural and vulnerable populations. Unfortunately, he said, the challenge, even before the floods, is that the health care infrastructure is just not there and current centers are not left un-staffed or staffed by under-qualified personnel.

Todd Shea from Shine Humanity, a disaster relief organization, spoke next and discussed how his organization started immediately by using mobile medical teams to take services to people who could not get to medical facilities. As the situation has stabilized, however, they are moving toward providing support to existing medical facilities. “The system is totally overwhelmed,” said Shea, “….if this disaster had happened here in the States, even the U.S. couldn’t handle it.” His organization promotes consortium efforts between small organizations that do not have the typically high overhead that some of the large international organizations have.

Dr. Rashid Chotani, Director of the Chemical Biological Defense Programs at TASC and a senior advisor to the U.S. Department of Defense on Pakistan, concluded with a presentation that relied heavily on hard data. He focused on the most vulnerable victims: women of child-bearing age, pregnant women, children and the elderly. According to his estimate, within the next three months we should expect an additional 3,000 to 9,000 deaths in expecting mothers, prenatal infants, neonatal infants, and children less than five years old due to the floods. He concluded with two quotes from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon: “I will never forget the destruction and devastation I have witnessed” and “In the past I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this.”

More on the symposium and the materials presented can be found on the Center for Global Health Website.

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Is Circumcision the Best Way to Prevent HIV in Africa?

Robert Bailey, Professor of Epidemiology, University of Illinois at Chicago

Circumcision is the most effective and promising tool that currently exists to prevent the spread of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in developing countries, an international health consultant and medical researcher said at a global health lecture on campus Wednesday afternoon.

The lecture, entitled “The Cutting Edge of HIV Prevention in Africa,” was the first of the Global Health Lecture Series and was cosponsored by the School of Public Health, Feinberg School of Medicine, International Program Development, and the Center for Civic Engagement.

Though there are several prevention tools such as behavior modification programs to promote using condoms or abstaining from sex, “The only truly evidence-based strategy that we have is male circumcision,” said Robert Bailey, who is also a professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a research associate at the Field Museum and co-director of the Chicago Center for AIDS Research. Other methods of prevention either don’t have the research to showcase their efficacy or have been found unsuccessful, he said, and a vaccine will not likely be invented soon.

But with 34 million people worldwide infected with HIV and 68 percent of those in Sub-Saharan Africa, preventive measures must be taken immediately. 5,000 men are newly infected each day in Africa, a number that health care professionals must slow down, Bailey said to the audience of 30 students, professors and community members who gathered in the Program of African Studies building on campus to hear him speak.

“We cannot treat our way out of this epidemic,” he said. “But we must find ways to prevent it from spreading.

One of those ways is clear, he said: The simple, cost-effective surgery of circumcision has been clinically proven to be both consistent and powerful in preventing HIV. According to evidence from three randomized controlled trials undertaken in Kisumu, Kenya, Rakai District, Uganda and Orange Farm, South Africa, uncircumcised men are two and a half times more likely to contract the HIV virus than those who are circumcised. Plus, unlike daily pills or other therapies, “once you’re circumcised you’re circumcised for the rest of your life,” he said, which makes it a one-time, inexpensive treatment (it costs about $50) that has lasting benefits.

After seeing the striking results of the clinical trials, The World Health Organization and UNAID threw in their endorsement in 2007, recommending that male circumcision now be recognized as an important intervention to reduce the risk of HIV.

But surgery alone is not the solution and must be performed in conjunction with other preventative treatments, Bailey cautioned. He is currently leading efforts funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Government to implement a comprehensive package of HIV prevention services that includes male circumcision along with other tools such as couples counseling and sexually transmitted infection diagnosis in western Kenya.

Not only is circumcision effective in preventing the spread of HIV, it is also helpful in reducing sexually transmitted infections, genital herpes, genital ulcers and cervical cancer in women, among other things. And through implementing this comprehensive circumcision program, health care professionals will also have the opportunity to reach out and educate men and women on HIV and improve the health care infrastructure in Africa.

Bailey and his team have already performed 140,000 circumcisions in Kenya during the last 14 months and hope to perform 900,000 over the next 10 years. “My goal since 1994 when I first got into this was to show that [circumcision] is effective and implement it,” he said. “And now it’s happening.”

For more information on the Global Health Lecture Series, please visit http://globalhealthportal.northwestern.edu/news-and-events/events-archive.

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Learning through Field Experience: Northwestern’s Program in Public Health Open House and Poster Session

The Feinberg School of Medicine hosts Northwestern’s Program in Public Health under the Department of Preventative Medicine. A few undergraduate students gathered in a room with Maureen Moran, the associate director of the program and a current MPH student to discuss the admission process as well as details of the program. Within the program, there are several different degree options—freestanding MPH, combined MPH/MD, combined MPH/PHD or Master of Science in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Many students with varying degree paths take classes together which proves for a diverse set of interests in the classroom. For those students who are enrolled in the freestanding MPH program, it is a part time program so many students continue their healthcare related job during the day and then take classes at night. Some of the classes that are offered are Behavior, Science and Health, Introduction to Biostatistics, Environmental Health Sciences and Introduction to Epidemiology.

MPH Poster Presentation

The most intriguing part of the evening was the Master in Public Health 2010 Field Experience Poster Presentation. MPH students gathered around posters displaying elaborate research projects. Students spent about 200 hours doing service in the community with an organization of their choice and this was their opportunity to present their research. The field experience helps MPH students achieve interdisciplinary public health knowledge, which is important to the Northwestern curriculum. One student, Lauren Slubowski, a MPH/PHD student worked with the Student Health Force, a public health initiative aimed at improving the health and success of high school students through education, skill-building, and career development. Lauren said that the children’s health education, awareness and interest grew tremendously throughout the year. Laura Phillips, another student interviewed HIV-positive patients about smoking cessation in the Lending Hands for Life program at Humboldt Park’s Erie Family Health Center. She found that the HIV patients knew that smoking was bad for their health but had no great incentive to stop because of their current condition. Overall, I was impressed with the variety of research topics and the student’s continued dedication to their community organizations.

Click here for a photo slideshow of the poster presentations.

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Community Engaged Research: A Potent Strategy for Promoting Health Public Policy

I attended a lecture recently by Meredith Minkler, a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. This event was sponsored by Northwestern University’s Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities (ARCC) and the Community Engaged Research Center. Professor Minkler spoke of her experience in community engaged research and its affects on promoting healthy public policy. Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR), her specialty, encompasses several principles, one being asset based community development (ABCD). This principle involves building on pre-existing strengths and assets of a community. Other principles include co-learning between partners to begin the power sharing process, creating a balance between research and action and a commitment to sustainability. With her background in policy, Professor Minkler also took us through the stages of the policy process. The first step she explained is defining the problem, second is setting the agenda, third is constructing policy alternatives, fourth is deciding on the policy to pursue, fifth is implementing the policy and fifth is evaluation. By creating policy hand in hand with CBPR principles, you not only empower the community with co-learning and creating opportunities for partners to learn skills in leadership, strategic planning, management and negotiation but also create sustainable change in the community.

This concept is demonstrated in the example Meredith Minkler gives on the food desert in San Francisco’s  Bayview/Hunter’s Point neighborhood. Professor Minkler and her policy team defined the problem as the lack of access to healthy food for the residents of the Bayview/Hunter’s Point. Nearly 25% of the residents ate fast food daily and in order to get to the closest supermarket, residents had to take 3 buses.  However, they noted there were neighborhood stores already in existence but their shelves were mostly stocked with tobacco and alcohol. This is an example of asset based community development. When constructing policy alternatives, Minkler and her team reviewed municipal ordinances but decided on creating the Good Neighbor Program. This policy program gave local stores store branding, free marketing, city recognition, discounts on energy efficient appliances if they agreed to devote 10%+ of shelf space to healthy foods and to reduce outdoor tobacco advertisements. By giving them the tools to succeed, the Bayview/Hunter’s point neighborhood had tremendous success. All Good Neighborhood Program stores had an increase in produce sales, decrease in tobacco and alcohol and an increase in overall profits.

With capacity focused partnering, policy makers will see the community as possessing assets on which to build resources and as a result, a high level of mutual respect and trust in the community will be gained. Minkler interpreted Community Based Participatory Research as a kind of street science necessary for policy making. She ended her presentation with a quote from colleague, Jason Corburn,. “When CBPR identifies hazards, highlights previously ignored questions, provides hard to gather data, involves difficult to reach populations, and expands the possibilities for intervention alternatives and success, science and democracy are improved.”

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