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Clinton Global Initiatives University 2016

 

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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Sex and Health

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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Flint Water Crisis: A Story of Environmental Racism

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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UNICEF NU Club Attends 2016 UNICEF Student Summit

The UNICEF NU Club at the 2016 UNICEF Student Summit in Washington, DC.

The UNICEF NU Club at the 2016 UNICEF Student Summit in Washington, DC.

UNICEF NU was given the opportunity through IPD to attend the annual UNICEF student summit this year in Washington, D.C. Over 300 students attended the conference from all around the U.S. To kick off the conference’s theme of advocacy, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power Skyped in as the first speaker, discussing what we can do now to help the Syrian refugees as advocates for change. Other speakers throughout the weekend included Martin Rendón, the Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Laura Ulloa, Monique Coleman, and Caryl Stern, the President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

In addition to keynote speakers, we were able to attend workshops on how to advocate for change in specific areas of interest that we are passionate about. These workshops included educating others on how to recognize human trafficking, understanding the Sustainable Development Goals, and many more. I attended the human trafficking workshop, and learned more about what I can do if I identify someone who is being trafficked, and how our club can educate other students at Northwestern on stopping human trafficking now. Outside of the workshops, we were able to share best practices with other schools from around the country. We are so excited to organize the fundraising and programming ideas that were shared with us in Spring quarter!

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Students from Illinois with aid to Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D – IL).

After the conference ended, students had the opportunity to stay an extra day in Washington D.C. to participate in Hill Day. Hill Day teams were broken up by state, and Northwestern joined Benedictine University to meet with our local representatives. I met with aids to Rep. Danny Davis and Rep. Jan Schakowsky to discuss the Reach Every Child and Mother Act and discuss how we can put children first in the U.S. This opportunity was a great hands-on experience that allowed us to apply the theme of advocacy to bring about effective local and global change.

by Arianna Farmer, SESP 16

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The Future of Professions and Opportunities in Healthcare

IMG_0996Independent medical economist and health futurist Jeff Bauer opened Monday’s “The Future of Professions and Opportunities in Healthcare Panel” with a startling message for audience members in the Norris Arch Room.

“I really think healthcare as a growth industry is done,” said Bauer. “We all think that if you’re going into health care you won’t be suffering for jobs because we’re always going to spend more on healthcare. Well I think the chances of that are less than 10 percent.”

Bauer said that there is an even chance of the industry remaining stable and beginning to cut back spending in the United States. He stated that as a medical futurist, he makes forecasts for the future of health care, not predictions relying on more exact mathematical relationships. According to Bauer the climate of healthcare is changing in America, requiring new forecasts for the future, which may not be a bad thing.

“I can’t tell you a country in the world who would ever invite me to come over and talk about US health care unless it were a speech on what not to do,” said Bauer. “We spend twice as much as any other country in the world and have less healthy people: that is not a good healthcare delivery system.”

The United States does, however, have an advantage in innovation, according to Bauer, making top American institutions like Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic destinations for citizens from other countries seeking medical care. Bauer encouraged students in the room to pursue a career oriented around caregiving and innovative techniques in the healthcare industry.

Healthcare consultant Norman Ryan, MD, the second speaker on the panel, touched a little more on just what further innovators of American health care need to keep in mind, particularly self-organizing principles.

“These are the things that you internalize and you think about without really having to be thinking about them that much,” said Ryan. “If you approach a question or a situation or evaluate an opportunity it has to satisfy certain things or else you won’t do it, or at least you won’t be happy doing it.”

Ryan said his own principles include curiosity, a desire to serve, and desires for security and money. An obese man Ryan once treated had no desire to exercise and eat less because his principles organized around eating enough and looking like Sydney Greenstreet, a famous overweight movie star from the 1940s and 1950s.

“He had an entirely internalized reason, along with others for doing what he did,” said Ryan. “These things are complicated decisions, feedback and education for people is not really going to work. People always talk about educating someone about something; if that really changed the behavior we wouldn’t have so many issues.”

Behavioral choices leading to obesity, smoking, non-adherence to medical instructions, and social isolation and loneliness have caused the American health system to waste billions of dollars, according to PricewaterhouseCooper’s Health Research Institute. Ryan said that social isolation and loneliness is becoming a particularly big problem, as more people use social media for most of their social interactions without realizing that it does not have the same benefits as communication with a physically present person.

“We don’t market social stuff really and I think some of the things were going to have to do is use social media to connect with people…a more sophisticated use of social media so people are not driven to isolation but are driven toward connection.”

The challenge is an exciting one for students coming into the healthcare industry, according to Ryan, but before they can start addressing these problems in their career, they’ll have to find a job.

Northwestern alumna Evelyn Lee, founder and chief executive officer at Vocation Catalyst Ltd. offered advice on the job-search. She told students to prepare well, attend mock-interviews and networking events, and explore their strengths and skills.

“Put yourself in a position where you can test yourself, challenge yourself and demonstrate those skills because at some point in the next two years or next three years you want to be able to tell someone that ‘yes, I can demonstrate these skills and here is where I have shown them,’” said Lee.

Just as Bauer and Ryan focused on innovation in healthcare systems and procedures, Lee emphasized the importance of innovation while pursuing a career.

“I encourage you really to be very open,” said Lee. “Be innovative, obtain the knowledge that you need to drive innovation, to drive change and to make a difference in this world.”

Above all, Lee said that students should not become too caught up in their studies or their extracurriculars and forget about their future.

“Take time for yourself to be certain that you have the knowledge and you have the network and the thoughts to be able to pursue and obtain those dreams that you’re working toward.”

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