Category Archives: Public Health

Seeing India Through New Eyes: An Indian-American Student’s Study Abroad Experience

In December 2014, I left the comforts of San Francisco to take part in the Public Health & Community Medicine in India program through Child Family Health International (CFHI). During my 4 weeks in northern India, I had the opportunity to engage with and learn from various non-governmental organizations that are tackling public health challenges like injection drug use, sanitation, and prostitution. For the first week, we worked with a WHO-recognized organization in Chandigardh that focuses on women and children’s health care. One of my fondest memories from this experience was being able to interact with the female sex workers that this NGO helps. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Aditi*, who told me how her hardships from back home forced her to become a sex worker in order to keep her children in school. Listening to Aditi’s story really put my life into perspective. Aditi, who is a mom, sister, wife, and daughter, was literally sacrificing her own body for the sake of her children, something only a strong individual would be able to do. I couldn’t help or stop Aditi from being a sex worker, however what I could do was be someone she could talk to, someone who would listen to her, even if only for a short amount of time. It was an exchange of hellos, an exchange of respect, and an exchange of appreciation that I could give Aditi, and ironically, in the end, what she gave me. This experience taught me that it is impossible to understand a public health issue like prostitution without understanding the human beings whom it affects.

DeepaWhen I embarked on this experience, it had been 6 years since my last visit to India. The transformation I saw in the country was phenomenal. I noticed improvements in infrastructure and cultural changes. Years ago, the topics of HIV/AIDS or sex workers were very taboo. No one liked to acknowledge any health risks and the government wasn’t doing much to spread awareness of such issues. Visiting the country now and witnessing the many programs the government has implemented within each state was inspirational. Programs such as NACO have made such a difference in the lives of countless people across northern India by providing necessary services and supplies to lead a healthier and safer lifestyle. Apart from HIV/AIDS, I also witnessed changes in the caste system in India. In this system, “untouchables” are deemed to be the lowest caste because of their occupation of being scavengers (individuals who clean up human waste from homes due to lack of toilets). This program gave us the opportunity to work with a UN-recognized social service organization based in Delhi that is committed to getting rid of the untouchables caste by creating a toilet complex system to implement in villages across the country.

Being an Indian-American, I was able to appreciate India in a manner I never had before. I had always heard about various problems in India, whether it was about the spread of HIV/AIDS or the controversial caste system, but I always felt helpless living more than 8,000 miles away. Through CFHI, I was lucky enough to meet people like Aditi, and listen to their stories to understand what really is going on in the world outside of our own bubble in America. Often times, I have heard my very own friends and family who are Indian-American comment on how “backwards” India is in terms of development and simple progressive ideology about issues pertaining to HIV/AIDS. By experiencing India first hand, I now have the knowledge and experience to educate my friends and family and help them be more aware of important public health issues. Reading and hearing the news about India is one thing, but actually being within India’s space and engaging with the people of that country helps put these issues in perspective.

UntitledAs a senior graduating college soon, I am at the crossroads where I have to choose what I want to pursue for the rest of my life. After my 4 weeks in India, I realized that this trip wasn’t coming to an end for me, it was just the beginning.  CFHI not only gave me clarity, but also a sense of direction. The CFHI program solidified my decision to pursue a career in the field of public health. Prior to the program, I knew that I wanted to obtain my MPH, however I wasn’t clear on what specialty to emphasize in. This trip exposed me to the world of global health and made me realize that it would be the perfect field within public health for me. CFHI not only helped me fall in Iove with India again, but it also helped give me a sense of purpose that I perhaps would not have found without this trip.

*Name has been changed to respect privacy. 

Special thanks to our guest blogger, CFHI alumna Deepa Mistry, for authoring this post.

Making Sure Global Health Education Doesn’t Perpetuate Disparities

“Global health education is at a crossroad. The landmark Commission on Education of Health Professionals for the 21st Century highlighted the substantial disparities in health education worldwide and proposed reforms to enable all health professionals to “participate in patient and population-centered health systems as members of locally responsive and globally connected teams”.

This quote was taken from the Lancet article entitled ‘Equitable access for global health internships: insights and strategies at WHO headquarters.’ The Lancet Global Health article highlights the need for broadly accessible global health internships— ones that allow for exposure to community-engaged programs by students from a variety of socioeconomic and professional school backgrounds.  The barriers to access to global health educational opportunities are real and require the global health education community to embrace novel approaches, alliances, and funding mechanisms.

CFHI Ecuador Global Health

CFHI global health interns with local physician in Ecuador.

Child Family Health International– CFHI a leader in global health education programs for over 20 years, is mindful of these barriers. As a nonprofit running global health internships that advocate for ethics and social responsibility, we recognize there are significant costs associated with global health internships and provide fair compensation to local communities and professional mentors that shape the intern experience through their time, energy and expertise. This follows best practice guidelines set out by the Working Group on Ethics Guidelines for Global Health Training (WEIGHT).  However, program fees needed to provide resources for host communities and to support and educate interns can be a barrier to equitable access to reach beyond students from resource-rich backgrounds.

Like the WHO, CFHI utilizes scholarships in an effort to seek out candidates that may have greater financial need, limited opportunity to travel abroad, and those whose are under-represented in our programs. Scholarships and funding initiatives such as these are key to making real strides in south-to-south participation in global health internships and reducing their exclusivity as the domain of the wealthy.  In addition, CFHI provides a crowdfunding platform to make it easier for students to raise funds through friends, family, mentors, and wider social media networks. Crowdfunding is growing, and is a powerful tool that should be considered by WHO and other global health internship providers.

“For sustainable improvements in internship access and improved global health education, academic and professional institutions need to partner with the public sector and foundations, donors, and governments to channel resources to achieve this aim. However, the scale of this task necessitates the involvement of multiple stakeholders. Who else will step up and contribute to a growing movement towards equitable access for training, educational, and networking opportunities in global health? And who should lead this transition and monitor its success?”

The article is ‘right on’ with its call to arms.  If global health education programs and internships to not focus on equity, access and diversity, we risk perpetuating the same power imbalances and disparities that the global health community strives to eliminate. Child Family Health International commends WHO and the Lancet article authors for highlighting this issue and remedying it with action and advocacy.

 

How can we ensure that more students have access to global health and other professional and international internships?  Comment on the Lancet blog or tell CFHI what you think below!

Global Health Uncensored: Notes from Western Regional International Health Conference

I descended upon the city through drizzle in true Seattle fashion, the Olympic Mountains revealing themselves in the distance. A local next to me argued against Seattle’s reputation for unyielding damp weather and boasted that the previous four days were dry and full of sunshine.

Rain or shine Seattle was brimming with energy and dialogue, as The University of Washington hosted the 11th Annual Western Regional International Health Conference (WRIHC) April 4-6, themed “Uncensored: Gender, Sexuality, & Social Movements in Global Health.”  The largest student lead conference in the nation, nearly 600 attendees from around the country and the globe joined the dialogue around gender and sexuality, topics too often stigmatized and neglected. I was there as an alumna of three different Child Family Health International (CFHI) global health education programs, representing CFHI amongst an army of global health enthusiasts.

Jessica Stern, Executive Director of International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), boldly declared, “It is not an option to silence sexuality. It’s everyone’s business to talk about these issues and more importantly, we need to talk about the sex we actually have, not the sex we pretend to have.”

The conference kicked off with a fiery presentation by keynote speaker Stella Nyanzi, PhD. A native to Uganda and a seasoned medical anthropologist, Dr. Nyanzi has worked extensively on youth sexuality and sexual and reproductive health issues in East Africa and contributed notable social science research and academic literature surrounding these topics. She encouraged the audience to not waste any time and to ‘uncensor’ gender, sexuality and social movements –the hardcore issues. She wasn’t kidding and even stunned the audience with the use of curse words, repeatedly followed by, “Pardon me, but I thought this conference was uncensored?” The diverse crowd immediately took to her, listening intently as she urged all in attendance to mobilize against issues that, whether we realize it or not, are relevant to us all.

Simply being in that room meant we were all comrades in the struggle for global health no matter what our focus, being that gender and sexuality permeate all aspects of health. Don’t forget, she sternly reminded us, that health transcends the mere absence of disease. “Become radical in a radical way and stop doing business as usual. Global health is about the global North and South. Arrive in foreign lands with a teachable spirit and empower everyone involved.”

Those with a teachable spirit can learn more about sexual and reproductive health issues touched upon during the WRIHC event. CFHI’s Sexual Health as a Human Right: Ecuador’s Unique Model in Quito, Ecuador affords understanding of sexual and reproductive health issues in Ecuador, the first Latin American country to guarantee sexual rights in the constitution despite a conservative societal context. Participants learn and help devise and execute educational and outreach strategies to take out into the community.

Going forward it’s imperative to continue ‘uncensoring’ topics, such as sexuality and gender. Jessica Stern from IGLHRC reminded us, “Sexuality is not just homosexuality. We all have sexual identities and sexual health is a human right.” Carlton Rounds, Founder of Volunteer Positive, urged the crowd to “lead with your stigma.”

 

Thanks to three time CFHI alumna Lyndsey Brahm for authoring this blog post.

International Experiences: Witnessing the Merger of Public Health & Medicine

 

“Global Health is Public Health”

Nothing makes for fodder amongst academics and medial professionals like definitions.  In the case of global health there are more than a few.  One definition was put forth for the Executive Board of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) by Jeffrey Koplan, MD, MPH, a physician, author and academic.  Another definition, offering a challenge to the often idealized concept, was proposed by a physician from the Global South as “a concept fabricated by developed countries to explain what is regular practice in developing nations.”  During this, the 19th annual National Public Health Week, let’s consider the definition of global health that appeared in The Lancet, “Global Health is Public Health.”

Students in Ecuador Attending a Reproductive Health Information Fair

Students in Ecuador Attending a Reproductive Health Information Fair

Abroad, physicians and other practitioners in resource-restricted settings act simultaneously as caregivers for both individual patients and populations as a whole.  The marriage of public health, clinical medicine, and health systems is cost-effective, pragmatic, and successful.  Slowly the US is catching on, as primary care physicians start to look at their patients, not only individually, but also as panels with certain disease profiles that can be monitored for population-based perspectives.  Similarly, experts have called on medical schools to be accountable to their communities in the Social Accountability of Medical Education movement, suggesting schools success cannot be measured without considering impacts on their own community’s health status.

Discovering Public Health in International Experiences

As head of Child Family Health International(CFHI), students interested in CFHI’s Global Health Education Programs often approach me and ask “What programs are focused on public health?” or conversely, “I want a program solely focused on clinical medicine, not public health.”  What they soon learn upon beginning their CFHI experience, however, is the important reality that in many low and middle-income countries the lines between public health and biomedicine are very much blurred.   This is largely out of necessity demanded by sparse or finite resources, as well as evidence-based and systems approaches to health.

International experiences focused on global health such as CFHI’s have so many proven benefits—studies have shown increased cultural competency, better understanding of caring for people with limited supplies, and a nurturing of lifetime dedication to underserved care.  Importantly, they also increase board scores in public health.  So, rather than asking “how can I find an international experience focused on public health?” consider the question, “how can I find the public health in my international experience?”

How have you found the public health in your international experiences?  Let us know in the comments below.

CFHI Salutes Medical Director Dr. Raj on World Social Justice Day

February 20th is World Social Justice Day. We would like to take this day to highlight one of our partners who has been working to achieve social justice. Dr. Rajagopal has been helping to reform the Hospice and Palliative Care laws in India through his organization, Pallium India.Through both personal visits to patients, and by building a strong system of doctors across the nation, Dr. Rajagopal has highly improved the state of Palliative and Hospice Care in India. Access to Morphine and Pain Killers is an enormous problem in India because of previous problems with morphine addictions. India has the highest amount of victims for mouth cancer, and it is estimated that less than 3% of cancer patients get proper pain relief. (1)

Dr. Raj conducting a home visit, Trivandrum Southern India

Dr. Raj conducting a home visit, Trivandrum Southern India

Fortunately, laws in India have been changed. Now, a policy has been set so that in Kerala, doctors with at least 6 weeks of training, such as Dr. Rajagopal, can prescribe morphine for palliative care. (2) The rule was introduced in June 1998 in Trivandrum, the capital city of the state of Kerala. Since then, the central government has recommended this new rule to all the states in India. The idea of easier access to morphine and other pain relieving drugs was initially recommended by organizations and committees such as WHO Collaborating Center for Policy and Communications in Cancer Care (Wisconsin, USA). The Center is currently attempting to simplify complicated state narcotic regulations to further improve the availability of opioid analgesics.

Through his organization, Pallium India, Dr. Rajagopal strives to provide Palliative and Hospice care to those that need it. Not only does Pallium India provide medical care to patients, but the organization also provides resources such as food and sewing machines to the patient’s family to help them get back on their feet. CFHI has partnered with Dr. Rajagopal to launch the Palliative Care In Southern India Program in Trivandrum, India that centers around Hospice and Palliative care. The CFHI participants involved in the program are given the opportunity to visit the patients and experience first hand how patients are treated and managed. Pallium India and CFHI have worked together to reform India’s Hospice and Palliative Care system.

(1), (2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573467/

 

-Special thanks to guest bloggers Alexandria Tso and Nayanika Kapoor for contributing this article.

CFHI Announces New Program in East Africa

CFHI’s Newest Programs in East Africa: Be Part of “An Activated Community” in Southwest Uganda

It is exciting when CFHI finds a partner so well aligned with its values of addressing broad determinants of health, engaging communities to help themselves, and strengthening local capacity for health care and community activation.  The Kigezi Healthcare Foundation (KIHEFO), a non-profit organization operating in Kabale, Uganda, is fighting disease, poverty, and ignorance by creating “An Activated Community.”  In partnership with KIHEFO, CFHI’s new Uganda programs HIV & Maternal/Child Health and Nutrition, Food Security & Sustainable Agriculture offer students from all academic backgrounds a firsthand learning experience addressing health, poverty, and education.CFHI Uganda Homepage Slide

Uganda is a country in Sub-Saharan East Africa facing many serious health problems and challenges, including high rates of maternal mortality (only 30% of women give birth in a health facility), HIV and child malnutrition. There is a shortage of medical professionals working in Uganda, along with equipment and medications. With the majority of the population living in rural villages and earning around less than $2 a day while subsistence farming, access to healthcare services is a severe challenge.

KIHEFO’s mission is to fight disease, poverty and ignorance in an integrated, sustainable manner. This means not only delivering healthcare, but helping communities deliver themselves out of poverty and reducing the problems causing sickness and disease. The team is large, “an activated community” made up of staff, former-patients and supporters worldwide mobilizing their communities for improved health and economic well-being.

CFHI Student’s Role in Uganda

Through CFHI, students from all academic backgrounds and levels have the opportunity to work closely to learn first-hand about child and maternal health, HIV, malnutrition prevention and rehabilitation, food security, sustainable agriculture, empowerment of women’s groups, micro-credit savings and community mobilization.

Students observe and learn from healthcare professionals working at the General Clinic, at the HIV/AIDS Clinic learn from counselors and former HIV positive patients about testing and counseling HIV+ patients, and participate in a monthly HIV outreach.

At the Nutrition & Rehabilitation Centre, students learn from social workers and nurses about preventing and rehabilitating malnourished children, and participate in nutrition assessments to measure patient’s growth and progress. Additionally, students learn about sustainable agriculture practices, including permaculture, and the importance of crop diversification and growing food closer to home.

KIHEFO believes there is no single cause of disease, much like there is no single solution.  Mirroring the CFHI approach they believe initiatives must be integrated, community-based and sustainable. Join CFHI’s Uganda Programs to learn from the people behind the “community activated” model for improving health and livelihoods.

Learn more.

Exploring the “Family” in Child Family Health International

You may have heard people refer to CFHI and those involved in the organization as part of a global family.  Our ‘family’ is made up of wonderful volunteers, health care providers, devoted  staff (stateside and abroad), as well as the fastest growing part of our family– more than 7,000 CFHI alumni and counting!India-Hands  We have been growing our family and projects for over 20 years.

CFHI is not only a global family, but we serve families.  Two projects that come to mind when I think about how our work affects families are projects that target the long-distance trucking industry in India and the illegal sex workers that support this industry.

In India, young men, and boys barely out of school, travel the highway system connecting the most distant corners.  The work is hard, the hours long, and the travel dangerous on the over-crowded highways connecting coast to coast.  While away from home for 2-6 months at a time, many truck drivers engage in sexual activities with prostitutes.  Two National Aids Control Organization (NACO)-based foundations that target this population are the Society for the Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM) and SWACH (Survival for Women and Children Foundation).

Actors performing skit on STD awareness at truck stop in New Delhi, India.

Actors performing skit on STD awareness at truck stop in New Delhi, India.

Both do amazing outreach and fieldwork with peer educators, some once truckers themselves. They captivate the young audience by performing skits (see photo, right), playing card games, leading monthly health camps, and offering the men free hair cuts and shaves while they talk about safe sex.  SWATCH peer educators target the high-risk female sex workers~ often widowed women (some still in their teens) who have been forced into sex work to support their children. Their main activities include teaching why condom use is important, the importance of regular HIV testing and resources are available if they test HIV positive.  They even teach the woman how to put on a condom on men in the dark by demonstrating how to put a condom on a model blind-folded!  Challenges ahead include rehabilitation training for the sex workers.

The family in Child Family Health International is both our global family of staff and local health care providers that make CFHI Global Health Education Programs the amazing experiences they are, and the network of folks, our alumni, who have been touched by CFHI’s transformative programs, as well as the families served by CFHI programs and reinvestment in host communities.

 

Social Justice: Embracing Global Health Complexities

Internationalizing Medical & Health Education

At the recent NAFSA Conference for international educators, the Colloquium on Internationalizing Medical Schools proved to be a forum marked by many thoughtful remarks, especially those of the opening speaker Edwin Trevethan, MD MPH.  Yet nothing struck me as much as the name of the school he heads–  Dr. Trevethan is dean of the St. Louis University College for Public Health & Social Justice.  The social justice part piqued my interest.  Social Justice is a term that did not receive enough exposure during my undergraduate and medical education, despite dedicated studies about global health, underserved care, and health equity. jessicanlauren nafsa 2013

Importance of Social Justice in Health Evolving

Why hasn’t this term gotten the play it deserves?  What does it mean anyways?  One of my favorite definitions of Social Justice is a “historically deep and geographically broad” understanding of gross inequities, power imbalances, and underlying causes of ill health.  Dr. Josh Freeman, the creator of the blog ‘Medicine & Social Justice’ offers further insight into definitions of justice, social justice, and how they relate to health and health care.  Social Justice has also been studied as one of the key ethical principles for students wanting to be involved in Global Health.  Increasingly there has been discussion on whether social justice should be a factor when selecting students for admission into medical school.

I think the reason Social Justice has not always made it into our medical and educational syntax is that it encompasses the utmost complexity.  Particularly in medicine we like things that we can boil down to cause and effect, test while controlling for variables, and fix with evidence-based antidotes.  Social justice doesn’t allow us to be logical and create such neat solutions.  Social justice demands we consider a host of influences on health, wellness, and disease.  It requires that we humble ourselves.  It requires we admit that problems causing health inequities worldwide defy the scope of one solitary discipline, or the involvement of just one prestigious university.

I want to commend St. Louis University and Dr. Trevethan’s leadership for their insight in going so far as to include social justice in name of their school of public health.  They, alongside other leaders such as CFHI partner association American Medical Student Association, demonstrate the fundamental ability to embrace the complexity of global health, and not unlike CFHI persevere with programming and partnerships that give social justice its due attention–both as a goal and as a lens through which to understand health.

At the annual NAFSA: Association of International Educators Conference CFHI was represented along with over 8,000 professionals who come together in late May each year to network and learn about today’s issues related to the fields of study and interning abroad.

International Women’s Day- A Story From CFHI India

alwar2Evaleen Jones, MD is the founder of Child Family Health International (CFHI) and Clinical Faculty at the Stanford University School of Medicine.  Today, on International Women’s Day we feature an experience from her recent visit to CFHI partner sites in India, and a story from a woman she met while there.  Her story  carries the message of community empowerment that CFHI embodies.

January 31.  Today we visited Continue reading

CFHI & Northwestern University Students Impact Women’s Health in Mexico

A Global Team

Global Health Initiative (GHI) at Chicago Lake Shore Medical Associates is a nonprofit organization leading through philanthropic advocacy.  Funding from GHI provided medical students at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine (FSM) the opportunity to engage in a month-long global health experience in Oaxaca, Mexico with a lasting impact.  Beginning in 2011, Continue reading

CFHI Welcomes new Director of Research and Evaluation

In the rapidly growing field of global health education, looking at the effects and effectiveness of global health immersion on participants, host communities, and the larger health equity movement is essential.

Dr. Gieseker with CFHI Medical Director Dr. Jessica Evert

Karen Gieseker PhD, MS joins Child Family Health International (CFHI) with a passion for Continue reading

How Can We Think Globally & Act Locally?

Phrases like “Think Global, Act Local” and “Global Health is Local Health” are catchy, but it’s sometimes difficult to figure out what they really mean. Continue reading

Trends in Global Health Education: UT Health Science Center, San Antonio

UT Health Science Center, San Antonio Houses Global Health in the Center for Ethics

It’s interesting to consider where a university or medical school chooses to house their Global Health efforts and how this affects the focus and framework of global health activities.  Continue reading

CFHI Sexual Health in Ecuador Program Highlights Constitutional Priorities

In 1998 Ecuador was the first Latin American country to name reproductive and sexual health as constitutionally guaranteed human rights.  Continue reading