It is hard to believe that the summer is coming to a close. What started out as a summer full of unknowns seems to be leading into a fall full of unknowns. Despite this uncertain time, my practicum experience has been humbling and fulfilling. I have been amazed and inspired in working with my preceptor and the exceptional teams at UNC Project-Malawi and the Tingathe Program over the past three months.
In the face of unprecedented and evolving challenges caused by the pandemic, they continue to do vital work for HIV programming while remaining both flexible and resilient. In working with them, I not only learned more about adaptation at both the interpersonal and organization level, but also gained new skills and experiences along the way – from connections with amazing researchers and staff, to irreplaceable mentorship with quantitative analysis, to a newfound appreciation for the processes behind intervention design and testing.
At the center of this work was the teams’ focus on the community, as well as their trust in and reliance on one another, which created an environment that was collaborative and supportive. This spirit of solidarity is something that I leaned into on days when I felt particularly overwhelmed by the state of the world. Our systems were inadequate and unequal before the pandemic—plagued by asymmetries in power and privilege—and these inequalities are being grossly magnified amid the current crisis. Addressing such stark challenges will require ongoing accountability and open collaboration between individuals, communities, and nations.
One of several heart-shaped ornaments spotted in the trees on a walk through my neighborhood!
What continues to sustain me is knowing that I am not alone in this, and that brilliant people are working towards shared goals of improving health and wellbeing. I leave this summer feeling tired, but more passionate that ever in fighting for a future for global health that refuses to compromise in the face of unprecedented threats, recognizes our shared vulnerability and humanity, remains committed to advancing health justice, and pushes forward for a better, brighter future.
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!
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,