Global Health Travel Blog

UNC Gillings students share their global field experiences around the world.

Page 3 of 7

Seeing the lemur through the trees: adaptation and resilience amid a global health crisis

What started out as a summer full of plans… was ultimately turned upside down. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I—like many of my fellow Gillings MPH students—will be completing my practicum remotely from my home in North Carolina instead of abroad. While I am crestfallen that I am not able to travel as intended, it is safe to say that global health work does not begin and end with plane tickets to worldly destinations. Indeed, global health is “more than just public health somewhere else” . . . it is a collaborative effort that cuts across disciplinary and geographic contexts to achieve shared health goals – an endeavor that feels most salient amid the current health crisis, where global solidarity is critical.

Working under the mentorship of Dr. Nora Rosenberg, and collaborating with colleagues at UNC Project-Malawi and the Tingathe Program, this summer I am supporting several research projects focused on HIV testing, treatment, and prevention in Malawi. My experience thus far has underscored the ways in which global health practitioners must be resilient and adaptable, not only in directly responding to the current crisis, but also in finding innovative ways to continue other vital, ongoing work in global health. Existing health threats like HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria are expected to get much worse in the context of COVID-19, turning back the clock on decades of global health progress. Amid such challenges, we must find new and creative ways to problem solve.

Greetings from… my home desk!

Greetings from… my home desk!

Where my practicum work will inevitably be impacted by COVID-19, the scope of my summer projects may change in the coming weeks – responding to the needs of an ever-evolving situation. In addition to being flexible in my work, the current crisis has provided a reminder of how important it is to take care of our physical and mental wellbeing through activities that sustain us . . . as we do our best work when we care for ourselves. In the current moment, what sustains me is regular interactions with my colleagues on Zoom, going on long walks outside, and finding good news to be excited about—like this recent announcement from the Duke Lemur Center on the healthy birth of a critically endangered blue-eyed black lemur!

As we all find ways to adapt to the current situation—which can feel isolating as we work remotely—and while I remain uncertain about what the future holds, I am comforted knowing that I am not in this alone.

Stay safe and be well,


My Global Health Experience in a Pandemic

By Shannon Applegate

In February, I bought a plane ticket to travel across the world to embark on a 10-week research experience. In March, the world shut down. This pandemic is a true representation of how connected, yet disconnected we are as a human race. The coronavirus has impacted every country but misinformation, denial, and lack of unity between countries persists. Public health research and interventions are needed now more than ever as this virus affects so many and health disparities increase.

The new normal… wearing a mask while taking a nature break with my dog.

The new normal… wearing a mask while taking a nature break with my dog.

Many people, including me, are now having to transition to working from home. I had originally planned to travel to Cebu, Philippines this summer to complete a research project at the Office of Population Studies (OPS) at the University of San Carlos. While I am no longer able to travel to Cebu to complete a formal qualitative research component, I will still be researching the same topic using data from the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey (CLHNS), a collaboration project between UNC Chapel Hill and the University of San Carlos. The CLHNS is an ongoing study that has over 30 years of data from a now multigenerational cohort. The longitudinal study covers a wide range of topics including infant feeding practices, reproductive histories, socioeconomic factors, environmental factors, schooling outcomes, and more. With the mentorship of Dr. Linda Adair, I will be exploring the primary barriers to exclusive breastfeeding within this cohort. The unique multigenerational study will allow me to look at determinants of breastfeeding, such as education attainment and household income level, across generations and time.

My work from home set up

My work from home set up.

The current pandemic has caused this internship to look a bit different than expected, including using Zoom regularly to meet with Dr. Adair to discuss my project. We are able to share screens to look at the data sets together in Stata. I complete my work at home at my kitchen table where I am lucky enough to have reliable Wi-Fi, a laptop, and a quiet environment to focus. I like to split up my day by taking my dog on walks through nearby neighborhoods and trails and enjoying an afternoon tea or coffee. I am excited to continue my research and am thankful that I am still able to complete this internship during the pandemic.

Student Public Health Practice During A Pandemic

We are back for another summer of students blogging about their practicum (public health field experience), however, things look a bit different this year…

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our students are leading the charge on putting into practice our motto, global is local and local is global public health. They will not be traveling abroad this year and will be completing their practicum in the U.S. or their home countries.

Our students will be sharing not only what they are working on this summer, but how they have had to adapt and be nimble securing and working (remotely for a majority) on their global or local practica during a pandemic.

Introducing our bloggers:

Student Reflections on the 2019 Triangle Global Health Annual Conference

Six students received funding to attend the 2019 Triangle Global Health Annual Conference on One Health: Creating Our Shared Future — Humans, Animals, and the Environment. Here are their reflections on the day!

UNC Gillings students representing at the conference.

UNC Gillings students representing at the conference.

Madelaine Katz, MPH student:

My experience at TGHC 2019 conference was wonderful. I had the chance to learn a lot about an area of global health that I am not as well versed in, in the form of environmental health, which was a major topic on panels and plenaries due to the theme of the One Health conference. I was particularly engaged with Dr. Dennis Carroll’s keynote on major globalized trends and their impact on health. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to learn about climate change in general, but the trends such as population change, land use change, and transformative technology were fairly new perspective to me. The fact that the world’s population will be increasing so rapidly over the next 80 years has so many alarming implications for health, especially since people will also be living longer. I am motivated to try in my career to encourage programming that incorporates knowledge of these trends, perhaps most importantly by focusing on the sustainability of health interventions and policy, so that it has overreaching positive impact on future generations wherever possible.

Having the opportunity to present my poster was also very exciting. My poster was based on research of menstrual hygiene policy on a global scale, and suggestions of how it can be more frequently incorporated into policies and guidelines such as the Sustainable Development Goals. Quite a few people came by to speak with me about my poster, it was encouraging to hear from people who wanted to discuss the importance of menstrual hygiene in this multidisciplinary space. It was a great opportunity to practice my research presentation and dissemination skills, and I received some great feedback for future work in this area from other professionals, and was even able to make a few new connections!

I’m so grateful that Gillings provided funds that made it possible for me to be a part of the event, and that I received a chance to share my work on menstrual hygiene policy in this arena. I’m looking forward to following up on the new professional connections I have made, and attending future global health related events in the area.

Brandon Adams, MPH student:

I thoroughly enjoyed the content and wide range of scientific ideas and projects at the conference. For me, the most memorable talk of the day was surprisingly at the beginning. Dr. Dennis Carroll touched on the future state of the world and discussed subjects such as population growth, climate change, and advanced technology. From his discussion, he emphasized the immediate need for change and collaboration across disciplines, specifically in the form of One Health, where professionals that specialize across a range of fields of human health, animal health, and environmental health need to work together to solve the issues that are plaguing this world.

Overall, the experience was certainly a memorable one and a formative point in the development of my career interests and professional goals. In addition, it was great to contextualize the material I learn from the program courses at Gillings and apply it to findings and discussions in the real world from both a global and local context.  As an added note, this was my first professional STEM/global health conference, and I would never be able to attend it without the financial support that I received. I would like to thank the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the respective departments for awarding me this rare and important opportunity.

Kris Sladky, MPH student:

On October 16, I had the privilege of attending the 2019 Triangle Global Health Annual Conference under the theme of One Health: Creating Our Shared Future – Humans, Animals, and the Environment. The format of the conference consisted of morning, lunch, and afternoon plenary sessions, a late morning and afternoon breakout session, and morning and afternoon mingle/poster/tabling sessions. With a variety of breakout panel topics and rooms at each session, over 45 poster presentations on various One-Health-Related topics, and a variety of organizations tabling, this format proved conducive to allowing participants agency in what exhibits, topics, and discussions they engaged in. As for the plenary sessions, each had a keynote speaker, panel, and storyteller, as well as an award presentation. While I thoroughly enjoyed both of the keynote speakers, Dr. Dennis Carroll’s talk in the morning entitled “Six Mega-Trends and Their Implications on Global Health in the 21st Century” really caught my attention. Flowing through statistics on six major areas that are currently experiencing rapid change including population, disease profile, urbanization, climate change, land use change, and transformative technologies, Dr. Carroll explicated how the “globe” is not ready to handle the magnitude of change coming by 2100 in all of these areas, which was frankly frightening. He urged us as public health practitioners to venture out of our “professional silo’s” and bridge the gaps among them in order to work toward solving, or managing many of these coming changes together in an interdisciplinary fashion.

For the morning breakout session, I attended Pathways to One Health Research in Vector Borne Disease. I was most intrigued by Dr. Natalie Bowman’s research on Chagas disease in Peru, and the socio-cultural aspects that contribute to spread of the disease from its triatomine, “kissing bug” vector to humans. In some of the periurban villages in Arequipa, Peru Dr. Bowman worked in, people like to live wall to wall with their domestic animals, which brings humans close to another source of food for the “kissing bugs.” Thus, the bug is drawn to the area of the homes with both their human and animal food sources, making it likely to bite, and infect humans, whereas animals do not show symptoms of the disease. Further, she discussed the difficulty of possible interventions including spraying and using physical barriers in the area, making prevention more challenging. As a trained anthropologist, and One Health enthusiast, I enjoyed connecting some of the more “micro” aspects of the disease covered by Dr. Bowman of an insect-vector-borne illness to the human and environmental challenges in the area.

The lunch plenary consisted of a “Company Showcase” for AgBiome, Locus Biosciences, and Sentinel Biomedical. As a pet lover and owner of multiple cats and dogs over my lifetime, essentially all of whom have passed away from cancer, this company provided incredible insight into their primary mission of advancing animal health by understanding the biological and environmental influences of canine cancer. As a kid, several of our homes were sprayed regularly with Round-Up weed killer, either by outside, private, landlord-hired companies, or by my father. With our cats and dogs constantly outside and exposed to these chemicals, my father (an exotic animal veterinarian and professor at UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine) and I have been discussing a theory that maybe exposure to these chemicals (among others on the ground in parks, on pathways, etc.) ultimately caused the cancer in our pets. Matthew Breen, the founder of the company, delineated what the company does specifically, and how they have been using surveillance, and dog tracking systems to keep in touch with the diseases animals come down with. Importantly, Breen made an excellent connection to humans as our pets’ counterparts, bringing up the point of possibly beginning to sequence, and gain more insight on the connections between animal and human cancer. As a cat/dog/animal lover in general, I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Breen’s presentation, and appreciated his One Health connection, which was the most evident of all of the speakers over lunch.

For the afternoon breakout, I followed my passion for writing and communication and attended the “Reach the People: How to Communicate Global Health Issues and Solutions” session. The panel, mediated by Editor in Chief of Global Health NOW from JH Bloomberg School of Public Health, included Matthew Chamberlin (Director of Communications and Marketing from Gillings School of Global Public Health), Lisa Braziel (Senior VP Ignite Social Media), Leoneda Inge (Race and Southern Culture Reporter for NC Public Radio), and Gavin Yamey (Professor, Duke University). I thoroughly enjoyed Gavin Yamey’s speech. He was engaging and laid out insightful lessons about effectively communicating public health information, including making sure to know your audience. Further, at the end of this session, we discussed the difficulty, as public health professionals and academics, of communicating the results and important messages from our research to laypeople and other academics alike.

The final plenary of the day featured keynote from Dr. Linda Birnbaum focusing on environmental issues and their impacts on human and animal health, as well as a panel entitled “Trouble in Paradise – One Health in the Galapagos Islands.” This panel mixed human anthropology, nutrition, microbiology, environmental science, and veterinary medicine to discuss the conditions affecting humans, animals, and the environment in the Galapagos Islands. The flash talks covered consequences of ocean warming on the Galapagos biome, anti-microbial resistance, the dual burden of nutrition, the threat to sea turtles and marine ecosystems with climate change and human disruption, and the marine environment and how it affects human settlement. Having been interested in the Galapagos Islands since I was a kid, I really enjoyed this panel, and felt it provided the most comprehensive coverage of factors that play into One Health (biology and microbiology, environmental and marine science, anthropology, nutrition, socio-political issues, animal and ecosystem health, etc.).

I am extremely grateful to have been able to participate in this conference. I have developed a passion for One Health throughout my life based on my family background, academic endeavors, love for animals, and concern for the environment, and hope to carry this focus into my future career as a physician, public health practitioner, and professor. Every opportunity to gain knowledge from experts in such a variety of fields, especially in such a welcoming, interdisciplinary setting, should be embraced.

Stephanie Cleland, MSPH student:

Stephanie was selected to present a poster at the conference.

Stephanie was selected to present a poster at the conference.

Today, 23% of global deaths are linked to the environment, accounting for 12.6 million deaths annually. By 2100, 5 of the 10 most populous countries will be in Sub-Saharan Africa, resulting in increased urbanization, ambient air pollution, and non-communicable diseases. Currently, 9% of terrestrial species are threatened with extinction by 2050, caused by land-use change driven primarily by agriculture related to livestock production.

These are just a few of the alarming facts presented by speakers at the 2019 Triangle Global Health Conference. The speakers used this information to emphasize the importance and complex interconnectivity of the growing field of one health, a concept that extends beyond the health of humans, animals and the environment and into energy, trade, and urban planning. The conference was an incredible opportunity to learn more about one health and connect with students and professionals doing important global health work in the Triangle area. During my poster presentation, I discussed my research on the air quality and acute health impacts of wildfires with Linda Birnbaum, the former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Receiving feedback and guidance from one of the most notable scientists in environmental health is an experience unique to a setting like the Triangle Global Health Conference.

The plenaries and breakout sessions during the conference were particularly impactful for me because they highlighted that the future of one health belongs to youth, the current students and future workers. Speakers emphasized that with collaborative engagement, technical competence, and an enabling environment, we will be able design the next generation of multi-sectoral, community-level solutions to address increasingly complex one health challenges. After attending this conference, I am more motivated than ever to join the growing workforce of one health professionals, where I can lead by example, emphasizing that global health is local health and that developing solutions to complex one health challenges requires flexibility and adaptability.

During the panel on climate change, Juli Trtanj from NOAA made a comment that has stuck with me since the conference. She noted that we observe so much environmental data, from satellites to temperature to land use. Given this extensive access to data, she posed the question: “Why are we still surprised by outbreaks, both human and animal?” She emphasized the importance of leveraging the available environmental data to better predict and prevent outbreaks. Moving forward into my career in environmental health I believe this question will motivate much of the work I do.

Lein Soltan, MPH student:

Dr. Dennis Carrol set the scene for the day’s proceedings with his talk titled “The Future is Coming, Are We Prepared? Six Mega Trends and Implications for Global Health”. He described these six trends as population change, changing demographics, urbanization, climate change, land use change, and transformative technologies. The moral of his story: by 2100, this world will look entirely different. He poignantly preached how we must shift our paradigm from thinking about the world we were born into to the world those born of us will inherit. The major takeaways: Africa will be the center of these global trends and solutions will need to be multi-sectoral. We must revolutionize artificial intelligence to tackle the issues we have been unsuccessful at preventing. While I and likely the majority of the room felt an impending sense of doom at the close of his talk, Dr. Carrol reminded us: Do not panic! It was a wonderful introduction to a day of One Health filled presentations. What I found most sticking about Dr. Carrol’s talk was his insistence that we need to expand One Health to include energy, trade, urban planning, and financing in addition to animals, environment, and people.

Dr. Carrol’s introduction was followed by Rob Salerno from DAI who shared with us “Three Lessons for Moving into Journey”. We must lead by example, recognize that complex problems require flexible and adaptive management approaches, and we must measure impact, performance, and progress. While we are not expected to share the same views on how best to tackle these “wicked” problems, we must move unison towards the same goals.

The climate change panel offered insights into the critical need to advance and streamline disaster related research which is often delayed or missed due to difficulties in funding, slow review protocols by the IRD, lack of ready to go research tools and protocols, lack of inclusion of community stakeholders, and no formal way to coordinate research. The first panelist argues that research must prioritized as part of the public health emergency response in order to answers these two critical questions about disaster efforts: Is it safe? Did our efforts help? He shared how the NIEHS developed a pre-reviewed protocol in May 2015 that would be ready to launch during an emergency. This protocol was used after Hurricane Harvey blasted through Houston and allowed research efforts to commence within two weeks.

We also learned that while sugar beets and sugar cane benefit from increasing levels of carbon dioxide, most other crops suffer and we are seeing yields consistently declining. The panel wrapped up with a discussion on how ocean species are sentinels for climate change. We are not untouched by the issues we see in the ocean as was demonstrated by the recent salmon die off in Alaska and the increasing incidence of cholera and vibrio outbreaks.

After a brief poster session break, I attended the advocacy workshops led by two member of FHI 360. They shared FHI 360’s nine steps to developing an advocacy strategy. We focused on step three: identifying target audiences and participated in stakeholder analysis and power mapping activities using Zika in Puerto Rico as a case study. The major takeaways from this workshop were that you need to be flexible and systematic in your advocacy approach.

Throughout the rest of the day, I learned about the methods of tick surveillance in North Carolina, how we can use dogs as sentinels for human health, and finally, about One Health in Galapagos. In this panel, Dr. Adrian Marchetti shared the four major threats to ocean environments (climate change, invasive species, marine pollution, and over-exploitation of marine resources), Dr. Amanda Thompson enlightened us on the dual burden of disease among Galapagos residents (obesity and malnutrition), Dr. Jill Stewart alerted us to increasing antimicrobial resistance in the waters of the Galapagos, and Dr. Greg Lewbart virtually gave us insight into sea turtle wrangling to look for ingestion of plastics.

Dr. Linda Birnbaum closed out the day and shared her forty years of expertise on environmental air quality and predictive toxicology – that is utilizing organisms with common biological pathways to predict responses in humans. Here, we learned that 92% of deaths in low income countries are pollution related and that a healthier environment could prevent the deaths of 1.7 million children under five years of age.

Thank you UNC Gillings for allowing to engage in this wonderful day of learning how to tackle some of Earth’s most challenging and salient issues. It is truly exciting to see the how the One Health movement is at play across various disciplines!

Lilly Smith, MPH@UNC student:

Attending the Global Health Triangle Consortium annual conference expanded my knowledge of public health and excited me for a future career in this field. I found out about the conference through the UNC MPH email newsletter when the topic of the conference caught my eye: One Health. My interest in public health comes from the veterinary medicine field and previous studies had lead me to learn about this framework of looking at how the health of humans, animals, and the environment interact. Speakers at the conference came from a variety of disciplines but are all working towards improving global health. 

One of the keynote speakers, Dennis Carrol, laid the foundation for the conference by discussing six mega-trends and their implications for global health in the 21st century. I enjoyed the breakout sessions I attended on “Strengthening Human and Zoonotic Disease Surveillance in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Sengal” and “One Health Efforts Are Likely to Fail Unless Partnerships Are Gained with Agricultural Industries and Food Animal Veterinarians”, which both touched on areas in which I would like to work in the future. I learned about companies working on exciting new techniques such as using data collected on cancers in dogs in order to learn more about cancers in humans and using CRISPR techniques to kill bacteria as an alternative to antibiotics. 

I enjoyed reading posters about public health research and talking to students who have performed a variety of research. The conference afforded great opportunities to network with professionals and other students. As an online MPH student, it was exciting to meet a few of the other UNC students!

Faculty in South Africa

Blog post by Kurt Ribisl, Professor and Department Chair, Department of Health Behavior

Greetings from South Africa!

I am spending 10 days in South Africa (Johannesburg and Cape Town) and Zambia (Lusaka) to meet our research and practice partners.

My days have been filled with meeting UNC undergraduate students taught by Alex Lightfoot in Cape Town and visiting their internship sites. I gave talks on e-cigarettes and vaping at the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Cape Town. I have also been meeting with researchers doing cutting edge work in HIV and gender-based violence. On Sunday, I fly to Zambia to meet with Dr. Ben Chi (UNC Gillings) and his colleagues at the University of Zambia including the dean of their School of Medicine, Dr. Fastone Goma who leads some exciting CVD and tobacco control work.

Alex Lightfoot and I also met with the leaders of Black Sash, a group started by a white middle-class woman who opposed apartheid in the 1950s. They are still going strong and now advocate for social policies to benefit vulnerable populations in South Africa. We then visited the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, which is regarded as South Africa’s leading center for postgraduate specialist pediatric medical and surgical training. We met with a student who shadowed health care providers carrying out trauma surgeries to basic family medicine. She saw 30 burn patients and is the only specialized pediatric burns unit in Africa. Several were burned by hot water and others by cooking oils. She wants to learn more about public health and injury control programs that could prevent these devastating injuries. She saw two very young children were being treated for lipoid pneumonia, a condition brought on from inhaling oils in the home. I immediately thought of the 6 people who have died from vaping over the past 2 weeks, most of whom also had lipoid pneumonia from vaping THC and CBD oils.

Deborah Baron gave me her copy of Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime. I can’t recommend this book enough – it provides an insightful look at what it is like to grow up under Apartheid. Alex assigned this to all of her students taking her Apartheid class and we have referred back to it several times.

Just before I left, two events have shaken South Africa. First, there have been numerous xenophobic attacks against foreigners and their businesses. Many people are being forced to flee back to their home countries.

I met with Dr. Mutale from the University of Zambia the day before I left Chapel Hill and he mentioned that they had to repatriate all of their students from South Africa. Refugees filled the Scalabrini Centre on my visit there. Volunteers were creating resumes for them, helping them find jobs and fill out asylum paperwork. I watched a room full of migrants taking online courses at the University of Southern New Hampshire to earn their AA degree. One woman lost her livelihood when looters torched her business. Like others in our group, I bought one of her remaining 15 handmade bags to help her raise funds to start over. We were also saddened to hear of an African migrant whose asylum was rejected by a panel of 3 white male judges ‘because she had not been raped enough times.” Scalabrini workers are doing all they can to advocate for migrants during these tough times.
Finally, Uyinene Mrwetyana, a Univerity of Cape Town student was raped and murdered at a Post Office. Crowds of protestors are speaking out against gender-based violence. You can see images I have seen all over campus and town. I am so proud that many of our faculty also work in addressing gender-based violence. Like most of public health, this trip is exhausting and totally inspiring. I look forward to forging stronger ties with our colleagues and partners here in Southern Africa.

Warm regards,

A Glimpse into Humanitarian Work

This summer, I’ve been interning with Save the Children and the Interagency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises (IAWG), working on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in Emergencies (ASRHiE). Part of my position there was working on research to finalize the Training of Trainers (TOT) package on ASRHiE, which is delivered to people working in Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) in Emergencies. I was very lucky to be offered the opportunity to finish out my internship by going to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh to provide logistical support for a TOT lead by some of IAWG’s new trainers.

It was a bit tricky to arrange, since it meant missing about a week and a half of school, but I was very lucky to have supportive professors and supervisors. Thanks to them and to my amazing supervisor at Save the Children/ IAWG (and to some very quick processing by the Embassy of Bangladesh in DC), I got my visa and flight arranged, and arrived in Bangladesh on August 22nd. I spent the night in Dhaka, and the next morning caught my flight to Cox’s Bazar. On my way to the airport, I shared a van with a really lovely couple who had worked for Save the Children in more than 10 countries. We wound up going to dinner together later that week, and I heard all of their fascinating stories from their travels.

I had one or two days in Cox’s Bazar to explore, and was surprised by just how beautiful the town was. The beach is the longest one in the world (a fact that the country is very proud of), and some areas of it are very empty and beautiful. I took tons of pictures on my walks, and it was great to get a chance to see some of the less touristy areas of the town.

The traditional fishing boats that people in Cox’s Bazar use.

The traditional fishing boats that people in Cox’s Bazar use.

The main coordinator for the training works for UNFPA, so I spent Saturday at their office prepping all of the materials for the training. It was so interesting to get a sense of what the offices looked like, and to hear from the trainer on her experiences working with UNFPA.

Then the training began! It was only two days, but those two days were packed. It took some time to work out the kinks, but I think that the participants got a lot out of it. We had every person we invited attend, representing over 14 organizations working in Bangladesh. I met so many interesting people, and we got a lot of great feedback to continue to improve upon the training in the future. It was fantastic to get a chance to see the training in action after researching so many of the topics that were covered.

All of the participants and trainers

All of the participants and trainers.

Unfortunately, due to rallies in the refugee camps in Teknaf over repatriation, we had to postpone our scheduled field day until after I left. However, I was very lucky to have a colleague there willing to take me to see the camps in Ukhiya the following day so that I could see the health post and primary health care center there and get a chance to try out one of the tools we discussed in the training. It was interesting to see all of the steps required to visit the camps: I had to visit the government office to receive a camp pass (with a specific date and camp number to visit) and attend several briefings around security, child safeguarding, and media/communications. These briefings helped to ensure I understood the do’s and don’ts while in the camps, and to protect the refugees that live there. I wasn’t ever sure it would happen until finally, it was Wednesday and we were getting into the van to head down the coast!

It took about an hour and a half on winding side roads, as well as passing through several police checkpoints to get to the camps in Ukhiya. We first visited the Save the Children primary health care center (PHCC), which lies right at the entrance of the camps so that it is able to serve both the host and refugee communities. I got a tour from a staff member there, and had the chance to see all of the buildings within the PHCC. Everything was very clean and organized, and they are able to provide fairly comprehensive services there. The manager was one of the people who had attended the training, so she and I sat down to chat for about 45 minutes, going through items on the Adolescent-Friendly Facility Checklist. They’re doing really fantastic work there, and it was wonderful to see all of the steps they are taking to serve more vulnerable populations.

The family planning room at the primary health care center.

The family planning room at the primary health care center.

After that, we headed over to the health post in the closest camp. It was a quick drive, and then we had to get out and walk as the van couldn’t get the rest of the way. The camps were built in a flood-prone area with many hills and valleys, so steps and paths have been built into the sides of these hills as the camps expanded. We walked along the dirt path, with little shops, makeshift shelters, and learning centers on each side. All around us, kids were running and playing, men were chatting over tea, and people were carrying water and food back to their shelters. I was surprised to find that, in many ways, it felt like a more crowded village.

The health post was under construction, so I spoke with the manager (another person who had attended the training) in the temporary space that they are using, and again went through the Adolescent-Friendly Facility Checklist. They are serving so many people daily, each day speeds by and the midwives and family planning assistants have little time for a break. It was great to hear about their experiences at the health post, and to know that they are able to provide family planning assistance so many people.

The new health post that they are finishing work on.

The new health post that they are finishing work on.

After lunch back at the PHCC, we started our long trek back to Cox’s Bazar. The following day I did a bit more exploring, and met with the SRH Manager for Save the Children to talk through my feedback from the time at the PHCC and health post. She’s spent several years working in conflict zones, so I also took the chance to speak with her about her experiences. Between talking with her, the national staff at the Save the Children office, and the couple that I met on my way over, I got a much better sense of what working in humanitarian settings can look like.

Even though I only had a bit over a week in Bangladesh, I learned a ton between the training, meeting all of the amazing people working in these responses, and seeing the PHCC and health post in person. I am so grateful for the opportunity to put my learning into practice, and I hope to continue working with IAWG as I move into my final year at UNC’s Gillings Schools of Global Public Health.

– Erin

Mwauka bwanji to all our readers!!

Mwauka bwanji is Good morning in Nyanja, one of the most widely spoken languages in Lusaka, Zambia.

For the second phase of our practicum, we were privileged to travel to Lusaka, Zambia with our preceptor, Dr. Alan Rosenbaum. We went mainly to observe and interact with the Fetal Age and Machine Learning Initiative (FAMLI) project team based in Zambia.

With Dr. Kasaro (far right) and Project Coordinators in UNC GPZ.

We were welcomed by Dr. Margaret Kasaro, country director of UNC Global Projects Zambia (UNC GPZ). On our first day, we had the privilege to meet with the project coordinators who talked briefly about the various projects UNC had in Zambia. We discussed enrollment and retention strategies as well as barriers and delays usually encountered in the various studies ongoing in Zambia.

Over the next couple of days we visited the FAMLI project sites in both the University Teaching Hospital and the Kamwala Health Center. We were given a tour of both research facilities and had the chance to observe the process of delivering an informed consent to a participant, determining eligibility and actually receiving their ultrasounds. The data managers and research assistants also educated us on data entry and storage in ways that protected the identities of participants. The sonographers allowed us in their space and gave us an opportunity to scan some of the mothers with their permission (we are both medically trained doctors in our respective countries).

Observing the doctor scanning the mother.

Enam scanning a mother with her permission.

Munguu scanning a mother with her permission.

Alan interacting with a mother who benefitted from FAMLI scans.

The most exciting part of the trip was interacting with mothers at various stages. We had the chance to meet and talk with those waiting on their scans; those who were receiving their scans and could not hide their excitement when the gender of their babies was revealed; and even those who had benefitted from FAMLI scans and had their babies. They showed us how they carry their babies on their back with the chitenge. Mothers seemed happy to be a part of the FAMLI study because they had access to free monthly scans. Ordinarily they would have to pay about 70 Kwacha for an obstetric scan.

Enam learning to carry a baby with a chitenge.

Finally, we managed to do some tourism in Zambia on the weekends. We enjoyed great food, safaris and game drives in the Lower Zambezi National Park, visits to crocodile farms, taste of crocodile meat and, of course, the great Victoria Falls. Unfortunately, we did not see “Mosi oa Tunia” – “The smoke that thunders” because it was in the dry season, however, we saw the beautiful rock cliffs behind the Falls.

Munguu with White Rhinos in the background.

We cannot end this blog without saying a big Zikormo (Thank You) to our preceptor, Alan Rosenbaum, Dr. Kasaro, and everyone at UNC Gillings, Global Women’s Health Division and UNC GPZ for making this practicum experience successful!

– Munguu and Enam

Equity as a Public Health Priority

“Is cervical cancer a big problem in South Africa?” This is a question I get, in some form or another, from many people back home when I tell them about the project I’m working on in Johannesburg.

The short answer? Yes.

Urban hiking in the Melville Koppies

The long answer? Yes, cervical cancer is a major public health issue in South Africa and many other African countries. UNAIDS estimates that women living in Eastern and Southern Africa are 10 times more likely to die of cervical cancer than women living in Europe. Within South Africa, Black women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer compared to White women.

Over 90% of cervical cancers are preventable, and the UNC-Wits-Right to Care team is working to increase access to prevention services in South Africa. Routine vaccination against HPV, the cause of most cervical cancers, did not begin in South Africa until 2014. And, although cervical cancer screening is free, only a third of South African women receive screening at the recommended intervals.

Rendani modeling her Right to Care jacket

In our classes, we learn about criteria used by governments, organizations, and funders to determine public health priorities: the number of people affected, the magnitude of a disparity, the evidence in favor of intervention, the cost (in dollars, years of life lost…) of action or inaction. By any measure, cervical cancer is indeed a public health problem, and these statistics are important–they tell the story of a disease that is almost entirely preventable, yet continues to kill hundreds of thousands of women every year.

At the same time, I have been thinking about how we frame public health problems, and what larger dynamics these measures can obscure. Cervical cancer is a disease of inequities, and confronting the social conditions that give rise to unequal health outcomes (in the words of Link and Phelan, their fundamental cause) must also be part of addressing this problem.

Public health is not immune from reproducing the patterns of inequity that we seek to solve. As a student, I have concentrated on gender and other social inequities as they impact women’s reproductive health. These dynamics are also reflected in gender inequality in the global health workforce and geopolitical inequalities that influence public health priorities. If the goal of global public health is “real partnership, a pooling of experience and knowledge, and a two-way flow between developed and developing countries,” we have a long way to go until this vision becomes a reality.

Recently, leaders at the National Institutes of Health pledged to take steps to end the “manel”– all-male speakers panels–and increase diversity in global health leadership. In his statement, Dr. Collins, Director of the NIH (and UNC School of Medicine grad), writes, “it is not enough to give lip service to equality; leaders must demonstrate their commitment through their actions.”

Shadow Boxing by Marco Cianfanelli in the Joburg CBD

It is an incredible privilege to be in South Africa doing work that I find important, challenging, and fulfilling. I feel very lucky to be completing my practicum with UNC-Wits-Right to Care and learning from a team that truly demonstrates this commitment to promoting equality–from increasing access to Pap smears to building partnerships and creating opportunities in global health.


Hustler Nation & the Jack of All Trades

Visiting new places in Mauritius – Participating in Medical Camps

The island of Mauritius had no indigenous population. People from many countries settled in Mauritius during Dutch, French and English occupancy, and gained their independence in 1968. With land as their only natural resource, the strong development of Mauritius is quite a feat. Currently one of the most competitive economies amongst African nations, Mauritius has successfully diversified its economy to include a manufacturing industry, banking and tourism. Part of this success comes from Mauritians having a “hustling” spirit. With their sacrificial and entrepreneurial attitude, they have been able to create a thriving nation.

This is also this same spirit that has permeated my internships during the last six weeks. When I arrived at local agencies to complete my practicums, the intention was for me to strengthen their monitoring and evaluation processes. However, I have had a chance to gain experience in a variety of settings partly because one needs to be a jack of all trades in Mauritius. This is especially relevant in the non-profit sector, as staff often have to fulfill many roles because of the lack of funding. For about two years now, the Government of Mauritius has mandated that all for-profit organizations contribute most of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) money to a national fund which is then distributed yearly amongst certain NGOs across the island through a competitive application process. The creation of a National CSR Fund was a way to address many concerns that NGOs (or Civil Society Organizations) were facing, such as:

  • Lack of focus on poverty alleviation and assistance to vulnerable groups
  • Lack of transparency in the allocation of CSR funds by companies
  • Difficulty in accessing funds by deserving NGOs
  • Lack of proper monitoring and evaluation of CSR programmes and activities
  • The proliferation of NGOs in order to obtain funds

Previously, NGOs were able to obtain funds directly from corporations — by law, corporations must give 2% of their profits back to society. The transition to this new way of operation has created or exacerbated certain challenges for NGOs. Many of them have had to reduce operations because of lack of funds, while others saw only part of their programmes funded. Both of the NGOs that I work with have had to dedicate more time and resources to securing funding. This has put a strain on existing staff who are attempting to serve in multiple capacities.

Talking about (dis)abilities

In my case, I was fortunate to be able to put my skills as both a social worker and a public health practitioner to use. I ended up acting as a project manager for a programme that empowers individuals with disabilities (the actual project manager was recruited to organize the Indian Ocean Island Games, an international competition that takes place every 4 years in July). Within the context of the empowerment programme, I was also able to facilitate employability training sessions for youth with disabilities and provide them with mental health support. I contributed to an advocacy session on ending child marriage in Mauritius. And interestingly enough, both of the NGOs that I am currently working with have decided to collaborate on a call for proposal, so I am now also grant writing.

Youth with disabilities taking part in employability training

This mode of operation can be challenging at times, since I am never sure how my day will unfold. I am learning to be flexible when I can, and have become creative in terms of when and where I do my work. This has led me to drive to many places in Mauritius that I had never been to. I have also discovered which coffee shops have the best combination of coffee, music level, pastries and WiFi connection — the basic requirements of any hustler nation.

Free services at Medical Camps – prosthesis adjustments and reparations

– Yovania

Salamat, Philippines

Guest blogger, Areej Hussein, undergraduate student in nutrition

Typical fruit vendor in the streets of Cebu city where the infamous and tasty Cebuano mangoes are sold.

As a recipient of the Class of 1938 Summer Abroad Research Fellowship, I had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines this summer to explore my Honors thesis research topic: the impacts of early childhood malnutrition on young women’s reproductive health and childbearing. I traveled to the Philippines extremely nervous at first because I had never done anything like this before. Deciding to spend two months in a country I had never seen before to pursue a research project was something that challenged my comfort zones. Nevertheless, I was excited to embark on this journey where I could meet new people, learn new things, and experience a new way of life.

While there, I was mentored by amazing researchers from the Office of Population Studies Foundation (OPS) at the University of San Carlos in Cebu, whose Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey (CLHNS) is a collaboration with UNC’s Carolina Population Center. My OPS mentor, Ms. Josephine Avilla, has been extremely supportive and a pivotal part of this research project.  Without her guidance and connections, this would not have been possible. My research included engaging in focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with young Filipina women on topics related to relationships and childbearing decisions, an effort to contextualize my quantitative data analyses.

The participants of the focus group were women from Ritazo, a community-based initiative run by women in an urban poor neighborhood in Mandaue City, Philippines. These talented women take scraps of materials donated to them by a furniture company and turn them into beautiful bags and merchandise to generate a source of income for themselves and families. These women, in addition to raising children and maintaining their homes, were earning money for their families and taking on leadership roles in their community. I am forever grateful to these women who trusted me enough to share stories of their livelihoods as they participated in this research project.

In addition to the focus group discussion, I conducted in-depth interviews with young women most of whom work as research assistants at OPS. Unlike the women of Ritazo, these women were closer in age to me and it amazed me how much I was able to relate to them in these interviews. These interviews felt more like conversations I was having with my friends rather than a research-participant style of interaction. These conversations were also insightful and brought to light many themes that would add perspective as I am analyzing the quantitative data. I am currently drafting a detailed summary of my findings, including these themes, intending to disseminate this information to all of the women who participated in this study. I strongly believe that the goal of research should be to benefit the community who graciously agreed to take part in it and who without the research would not exist.

During my stay, I also had the opportunity to attend a two-day data analysis workshop led by my professor and mentor Dr. Linda Adair. This workshop brought together researchers from different institutions across the Philippines to discuss data dissemination and analysis for a national population study carried out by OPS as an effort to better understand the “Filipino child”. It was inspiring to witness the excitement in the room for this kind of work and how invested these researchers were in bettering their country. In this workshop, I also heard stories about research field workers risking their lives to obtain research data. These dedicated researchers would travel to some of the most inaccessible and dangerous parts of the Philippines manually collecting data using pen and paper, which then students and researchers, like myself, have the convenience of accessing on a computer with just a click of a button. Learning about the risks involved in data collection and witnessing the effort that goes into editing and coding the data in the OPS office made me appreciate the research data more.

Akong Pamilia (“my family”) –celebrating my birthday at the office. OPS

While the purpose of my trip was to conduct research, what I gained was far more valuable than data. Here I gained a family that made me feel more at home than an outsider! Many greeting me with “Assalamu alaikum” (a greeting that Muslims use translating to “Peace be Upon you”) even when they were not Muslims themselves was one of the many ways that people tried to welcome me. I also gained a small glimpse of a beautiful culture that embraces everything that is love and community! I gained stories of resilience and faith that left me more than inspired! During a time where I longed to go home to Sudan but could not because of the political unrest, the Philippines became my home! I saw my people in their hospitality and their love for one another! I had an extremely positive experience and I am forever grateful to Dr. Linda Adair, the Class of 1938 Fellowship, and Honors Carolina for their immense support throughout this experience and making it possible!

Beautiful waters of Moalboal,Cebu, Philippines.

In addition to research, I had the opportunity to experience island hopping and explore as much as I can of this beautiful archipelago.

– Areej

« Older posts Newer posts »