Global Immersion Courses Make a Difference in Student Perspectives
Seven students delved into the history, culture and public health systems of Latin America during the inaugural Summer Intersession Course in Colombia and Panama May 20-June 3. Fourteen traveled to Geneva for the third Global Health Immersion Course, focusing on policy, held May 17-June 1. Four students took field study on global access to clean water and sanitation at the Southern Institute for Appropriate Technology (SIFAT) in Alabama May 12-25, the second year of Kent State participation.
Panama and Colombia
Epidemiology doctoral student Amy R. Krystosik was teaching assistant for the Latin America course, which focused on tropical and endemic diseases. She helped to develop and lead the course, which was coordinated by Mark James, Ph.D., chair, Department of Biostatistics, Environmental Health Sciences & Epidemiology, and executive director of Global Health Programs. “We started in Panama City with a day of lectures by internationally renowned researchers discussing their groundbreaking investigations regarding influenza, Helicobacter pylori infection, HIV/AIDS, cutaneous Leishmaniasis, Chagas Disease and malaria,” Krystosik explains. A must-see for the students was the Panama Canal, as they have studied the historic advancement in malaria and yellow-fever control during the canal’s construction.
Traveling to Cali, Colombia, the students spent substantial time with the faculty and staff of the Caucaseco Scientific Research Center. Lectures focused on the public health system in Colombia, the country’s endemic infectious diseases, malaria research conducted at the center and vaccine development efforts.
“The research regarding Plasmodium vivax vaccine development was a very unique and interesting thing to see,” says Krystosik. “At this single location, there is ready access to all the required components: P. vivax-infected individuals, non-human primates, clinical trial facilities, the insectary for sporozoite production, the vaccine research laboratory and world-class scientists working together,” she explains.
Next stops were to Buenaventura, an endemic region where the students visited hospitals, and Nasa Kiwe, an indigenous and autonomous community where students met with local leaders to discuss health needs and culture. “It was really important to see the striking difference between highest and most basic care and to observe that health disparities go hand in hand with poverty,” Krystosik says. She is continuing her examination of tropical diseases by spending the summer at a National Institutes of Health laboratory studying malaria in Mali.
On the other side of the world, 14 Kent State public health and nursing students spent two weeks in Geneva, studying global health policy. The trip coincided with the 66th World Health Assembly (WHA), a nine-day event attended by representatives from all 194 member states, who meet annually in Geneva to determine World Health Organization (WHO) policies, budgets and leadership. The Kent State contingent enjoyed unique status at the meeting – Kent is among only a handful of universities in the world that sends credentialed students to the WHA. Kent State holds this special status due to strong relationships with Geneva organizations cultivated by Assistant Dean for Operations and Community Relations, Ken Slenkovich, who served as faculty for the Geneva course, along with Thomas W. Brewer, Ph.D., associate professor, Social & Behavioral Sciences.
Doctoral student Diana Kingsbury was one of three graduate students traveling to Geneva. She blogged about her experience attending plenary and breakout sessions of the WHA; visiting the WHO, the International AIDS Society, the World Council of Churches, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Council of Nurses and Doctors Without Borders; and traveling to Annecy, Chamonix and Paris.
“It was amazing the kind of information we picked up on any given day,” Kingsbury says. “It was so interesting to see how the WHO works and how the WHA fits into WHO policies. I also enjoyed observing the interactions of delegates from around the world. I got the impression that many countries are working hard to address global health problems, but progress is not especially easy,” she says. Kingsbury is contemplating dissertation research on refugee health, so the Geneva trip was a key opportunity for her to obtain the most up-to-date information on the topic.
The course was also pivotal for Robin Y. Hughes, a master of public health student. She’s enrolled in the two-year, part-time Health Policy & Management program for working health professionals, offered at the university’s Twinsburg Regional Academic Center. Hughes is a clinical research nurse specialist at University Hospitals of Cleveland (UH). She is particularly interested in global health professional workforce issues and will use her Geneva experience to inform the practicum required for her degree program.
“Developing countries represent 25 percent of the world’s disease burden, but fewer than three percent of health care professionals,” Hughes observes. “For example, in Ethiopia, there are 40 psychologists for three million people,” she says. “In Geneva, I learned that the WHO is working really hard to increase the health professional workforce in the underserved, developing world. The WHO is helping to put regulations in place, build partnerships with universities and fund incentives, such as housing stipends,” she says.
Four students journeyed to rural Lineville, Alabama, for two weeks of field study on global access to clean water and sanitation at the 175-acre campus of the Southern Institute for Appropriate Technology.
“The course is designed to get people some skills in dealing with the basic health and human needs that they learn about in their public health classes,” explains Madhav P. Bhatta, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology and faculty for the course. “Big problems globally are access to clean drinking water and access to improved sanitation for disposal of human waste. Some 2.5 billion people don’t have access to proper sanitation, and a simple hole in the ground that is covered (a pit latrine) is considered an improved sanitation method,” Bhatta says. “In the classroom, you learn the extent of such problems globally. But in this field study course, you learn how to address them with low-cost solutions for clean drinking water and improved sanitation at the household or community level in settings where an expensive water treatment plant or a waste disposal system is not feasible. The course also teaches people how to develop local sources of good, low-cost nutrition. The students learn to mobilize a community to solve its own problems,” he says.
MPH student Eric Hutzell made the trip to Alabama in 2012, the first year of Kent State involvement. Calling it “by far the best course he’s taken through the university,” Hutzell particularly enjoyed “learning the practical application of skills to help people.” “The highlight for me was being able to separate from our cell phones and computers to focus on a particular topic together with people from Congo, Haiti, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and from across the United States. We formed a community bond, actually learning what is going to help people – that was the best part the class,” he recalls. In July, Hutzell traveled to Belize with Lutheran Campus Ministriesto work on a water sanitation project in the rural area around San Ignacio. “We mobilized community members to help themselves and gave them knowledge about how to make making their water safe,” he says.
Ryan Tingler, a global health undergraduate, made the trip in 2013. His academic program requires an international internship or practicum, and he says he chose the Alabama immersion course because of the diversity of information and experiences he could gain in a short time period. Seared into his memory was an evening spent experiencing a life of poverty in Mumbai, in a mock slum located on the SIFAT campus. “Our roles were to work as day laborers carrying wood for construction,” Tingler recalls. “We worked for hours, which earned us enough for just a few tablespoons of food to feed an entire family,” he says. “It was an intense, life-changing experience, coming to understand what millions go through every day,” he says.
Another highlight for Tingler was learning about Leaf for Life, an organization that works on U.S. and international nutrition projects and offers simple, creative ways to encourage children to eat more dark green, leafy vegetables. Leaf for Life focuses on solar drying of leaf crops, making of leaf concentrate and gardening. The SIFAT students dried some leaves, made a powdered concentrate and cooked with it the following day. “It tasted great,” Tingler says of the pasta dish made with leaf concentrate.
Observing that the Alabama field experience “prepared him for more,” Tingler says he’s considering working on a Leaf for Life project in Central America in the future. “With just one leaf, you can help save a child’s life,” he remarks.