Participants of Northwestern’s 2nd Annual Global Health Case Competition teamed up February 14th to present solutions to the problem of combining access with accuracy in infant HIV testing in Tanzania. The teams, representing three undergraduate schools and four graduate programs, presented solutions to a panel of judges, including Kara Palamountain, the author of the case. The winning team consisted of Eleanor Burgess, School of Communication; Kaitlyn Kunstman, Feinberg School of Medicine; and Kori Cooper, Marine Coste and Shweta Hosakoppal, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. The team will represent Northwestern at Emory University’s Global Health Case Competition this March.
The team’s approach, according to Burgess, involved a serial testing model for infant HIV diagnosis. “We made sure that our proposal was equitable across rural and urban regions and incorporated our core principles of community collaboration and sustainability,” she said. The team focused on a variety of issues, including appealing to stakeholders, testing strategies, and resource shortages. “We were also cognizant of the healthcare shortage in these regions,” said Kunstman, “and made a point that we would implement training programs for local community health workers and midwives.”
In organizing the event, Global Health Program Assistant Chelsea Ducharme sought a case written by a member of Northwestern faculty that offered students the opportunity to apply academic lessons in a realistic scenario. The case itself challenged participants to develop effective roll-out recommendations for infant HIV tests in Tanzania, in the meantime considering challenges such as healthcare providers’ lack of human resources, electricity, and water, and clearly discrepant test-related preferences among higher- and lower-resource organizations.
Each team presented for ten minutes in front of a panel of Northwestern judges, each with important expertise in the realm of global health at Northwestern. Kara Palamountain, a Research Assistant Professor at the Kellogg School of Management and the Executive Director of the school’s Global Health Initiative, is currently working to develop and produce affordable HIV diagnostics for resource limited settings. Mark Fisher, the Director of Engineering at Northwestern’s Center for Innovation in Global Health Technologies, has vast experience in the medical industry, both in development and strategic positions. Rob Dintruff, a faculty member at Kellogg and a Board Member of Northwestern’s Global Health Foundation, has worked extensively with global health diagnostics and testing programs. The combined experience and skill of each judge was invaluable for students, according to organizer Matt Pietrus. “Both Mark Fisher and Rob Dintruff provided invaluable feedback to the participants,” he said.
“We were so fortunate that Kara, Mark (Fisher), and Rob (Dintruff) were available and willing to judge the competition based on their involvement in the actual project in 2008,”said Ducharme.
Echoed Kunstman, “it was very interesting to get the judges’ perspectives on the case, and obviously we were very lucky to have Kara Palamountain herself speak to the unique challenges her team faced while tackling the same case.”
The competition kicked off with a welcome address by Michael Diamond, Adjunct Lecturer of Global Health Studies, who told students their commitment to global health was admirable. The case competition offers students a chance to “reflect reality,” he said, and complemented the collaborative essence of the competition. “People need to work together for more effect,” he said, “and efforts here signify the opportunity to demonstrate the value of multidisciplinary approach to complex challenges.”
Each of the eight teams in the competition consisted of students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and cross-schools at Northwestern, offering diverse perspectives that have proved invaluable in global health work. Kunstman, a first year medical student at Feinberg, appreciated the range of her team. “We all brought our own global health experiences to the table, but even more so, we all had different interests and real life experiences to add as well,” she said.
In the closing remarks of his speech, Diamond stressed the importance of intramural experiences that focus on building expertise in the field of global health. “The world is going to be a better place for what you are doing here,” he told students.
Competition sponsors: Program of African Studies/Department of Education, Title VI; Global Health Studies/International Program Development; Feinberg’s Center for Global Health; and The Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Studies.