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Alumni Spotlight: Q&A with Dr. Gary Kirkilas

Gary Kirkilas HeadshotQ. Tell us about the CFHI program you participated in.

I had the pleasure of participating in CFHI’s program,  Realities of Health Access & Inequities in Oaxaca, Mexico in April 2005 just before starting my first year of medical school. The program’s intent was for students to experience the differences between the Mexican culture of medicine and their home country. This was facilitated by weekly rotations (much the same as U.S. 3rd and 4th year medical school rotations) in various clinical settings such as tertiary hospitals, community hospitals, and a variety of outpatient clinics (pediatrics, general practice, women’s health etc).

Q. What were your goals going into the program? How did CFHI help you in achieving those?

Early in my medical training I came in contact with many Hispanic patients, many of whom traced their ancestry to Mexico. I knew the American medical culture very well, but knew next to nothing about the Mexican culture. Recognizing this as a large gap in my medical knowledge, my goal was to absorb as much Mexican culture knowledge as possible, in particular, the culture of medicine. CFHI’s program in Mexico was well thought-out and goal-orientated right from the start. From the home-stays that allowed me to assimilate into the Mexican family home life to the daily Medical-Spanish classes to the weekly lectures given by Mexican doctors, CFHI’s program helped me increase my cultural knowledge in the brief time that I was there.

Q. What were the overall highlights of your CFHI experience?

THE FOOD! I had no idea the culinary expertise that existed in Oaxaca. Every street side café offered the opportunity to take in the Mexican street life with some amazing prepared dishes. Going to the farmer’s markets with my host family was also a great way to experience Oaxacan community life and learn about how the food was prepared.

Q. Who was the most inspiring person you met on the program?

One of the patients I was following in a poor public tertiary hospital, who was about my age, was sadly injured in a motor vehicle accident, leaving him a quadriplegic and on a ventilator. During the week I was following him a nighttime storm had knocked out the electricity and the hospital generator failed. Our team in pitch blackness took turns hand bagging him until our hands got tired. I can’t begin to imagine how scared he might have been that night, relying on us to provide him each breath. It was quite inspiring to witness his mental toughness and I grew quite attached to him and continued to visit him even though I had moved on to my next rotation.

Q. Did the CFHI program influence your career path? If so, how?

Definitely, as a new physician just out of my pediatric residency I had many options for a first job. I could work in a busy private practice office and make a good salary, but that just didn’t appeal to me. I knew right here in the U.S. there was a large population of people who were over-looked and needed medical attention, especially undocumented immigrants from Mexico and the homeless population. Since finishing residency I have always sought positions that serve these populations.

Q. What are you doing now?

image2I have quite an interesting job. I work as a general pediatrician on a 35-foot medical R.V. that travels around downtown Phoenix, AZ providing free medical care to the city’s shelters and homeless population. The medical R.V has two exam rooms, a small lab where I can draw blood, and even a small pharmacy where I can distribute medications. The program runs out of the Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s Home Youth Outreach program.

Q. Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about applying or about to go on a program?

Without a question it is a MUST do! No matter where you end up practicing medicine you’re going to come into contact with patients from a completely different cultural background. The U.S. and other Western countries continue to become more culturally diverse so having an ounce of cultural knowledge really goes a long way. Spending a month abroad in a program like CFHI’s will definitely increase your cultural awareness and make you a better healthcare provider. Plus it’s a lot of fun!!!

Special thanks to Dr. Gary Kirkilas, Vice Chair of CFHI’s Alumni Advisory Board, for allowing us to interview him for this post.

Global Health Workforce Diversity: What about interns?

By Alex Cheng

Across our planet we find it’s diversity that unites and binds us. It’s even the motto of the European Union, and is something to be celebrated by all. For if it weren’t for diverse perspectives and innovative ideas, we wouldn’t be exploring the universe, travelling on planes, or even tweeting our opinions on social media. Imagine a world lacking the multilateral United Nations organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), for whom diversity and equal voice are founding principles.

Today as throughout its history, WHO plays a vital role in not only improving the health of communities, but also strengthening the capacity of Member States to do so too. Child Family Health International (CFHI) shares this commitment, as demonstrated through its community-based Global Health Education Programs and Community Health Projects. Such work carries great responsibility, so the opportunity for young trainees in global public health to contribute towards these goals is a valuable experience. This is achieved in part through the highly popular WHO Headquarters internship program, which sees around 600 participants every year.

IMG_1127As a former intern, I can attest to the knowledge and experience that I have gained as a result of working at WHO-HQ. However, as I looked around amongst my bright colleagues and friends, one thing became clear: WHO lacks geographic diversity amongst its interns. In 2013, more than 80% of interns came from high income countries. The cost of living in Geneva is amongst the highest in the world, and WHO interns are unpaid, suggesting it’s the financial cost that holds back many candidates from low- and middle- income countries.

Every year WHO allocates large portions of its budget towards increasing countries’ capacity to respond to health needs including severe ones such as the humanitarian crisis in Syria or the Ebola emergency in West Africa. Yet, regrettably, to my knowledge WHO does not set aside funds to help young people from the often most affected countries to engage in the policy development work at WHO that may affect them. Diversity is key to a functioning international health system, so why aren’t global health agencies reflecting this where it matters most, in training the next generation?

IMG_1117This is why the Network of WHO Intern Alumni (NWIA), an international group of former WHO interns, is working with nonprofit organizations, global health professionals, and current WHO-HQ Interns to support two capable candidates from low- and middle- income countries who are accepted at WHO-HQ to participate in its internship program. Like NWIA, CFHI is committed to developing and ensuring the diversity of the next generation of Global Health leaders. The intended initiative is analogous to CFHI’s Diversity Scholarship Program, which supports underrepresented students to participate in global health focused study abroad opportunities.

We’ll support two accepted interns, and film their professional experiences in Geneva to produce a documentary. We have all witnessed the benefits of this opportunity, and believe it should be extended to our peers across the world irrespective of their geographic or income background. Help us make this case heard by donating to and sharing our campaign here.

 

alex chengAlex Cheng, Sydney, Australia
Former WHO Intern Board Vice-President
Intern, Communications Department, World Health Organization Headquarters, 2015

 

 

CFHI Celebrates One-Year of Global Health Education & Community Empowerment in Uganda

In April 2014, Child Family Health International (CFHI) welcomed our first Global Health Scholars to Kabale, Uganda to take part in two innovative new programs, Exploring HIV/AIDS & Maternal Child Health and Nutrition, Food Uganda studentsSecurity and Sustainable Agriculture. This was a momentous occasion for CFHI, as it marked our expansion into East Africa and an exciting new partnership with Kigezi Healthcare Foundation (KIHEFO), a local nonprofit organization that addresses poverty, disease, and ignorance through an integrated approach and prides itself on the creation of an “Activated Community.”

Both programs have been a tremendous success in their first year, attracting students from various disciplines eager to learn about public health challenges in Uganda and socioeconomic factors that influence health. Here, learning opportunities are abundant. CFHI Global Health Scholars are welcomed into KIHEFO’s family of medical officers, nurses, social workers, counselors, and other team members who are the heart and soul of these programs. Through clinical rotations, rural outreach visits, and public health initiatives, CFHI Global Health Scholars learn about the prevention and treatment of malnutrition in children, gain an understanding of the importance of partnering with traditional healers, and explore methods of growing a diversity of foods closer to people’s homes.

103_1641In June 2014, CFHI Global Health Scholars assisted with a Nutrition & Women’s Health Survey in the rural community of Rubira in Southwestern Uganda. With the help of a translator, they interviewed over 70 families in an effort to gather information about health status. This important work helped CFHI’s local partner, KIHEFO, identify households struggling with malnutrition and infectious diseases. This experience proved to be a memorable learning opportunity for students like Amanda Gailey, who wrote, “This week has been very full and educational. I have enjoyed getting to know some of the people here and learning about their everyday circumstances. I feel like this is the best way to help others—by learning from them and trying to better understand their needs.”

In the past year, we’ve also seen tremendous growth in locally-led community health projects, like the Rabbit Breeding & Training Center. This center is implementing rabbits as a sustainable source of protein and income for rural families in the Kabale District. Since its inception, the project has grown from 120 rabbits to over 3,000 rabbits housed at 5 centers throughout Kabale District, the most recent opening in Kyanamira this past month. Recently, we also celebrated the opening of the Maternal & Child Hospital in Kabale-town, which will serve as a labor and delivery center and help decrease the burden on over-crowded public facilities.

We are grateful for our flourishing partnership with KIHEFO, who never cease to inspire us with their dedication and vision. We could not be more proud of all that we’ve accomplished together this past year and excited for the synergy that lies ahead.

Visit our website to learn more about CFHI’s Global Health Education Programs in Uganda.

Reflecting on the Future of Global Health 2015

By Molly Biehl, CFHI Alumni Advisory Board Member

When I moved to Washington, D.C. two years ago, I anticipated a lot of buzz around global health, but coming from the intimate public health community in Portland, Oregon, I could have never imagined something as grand as The Future of Global Health (TFGH) event.

16604400154_c1963d8b0f_o-2This annual event is sponsored by Global Health Council and the Global Health Fellows Program II and is specifically branded as an un-conference because of the unique format: small group conversations led by senior global health professionals that are intended to create dialogue and foster networking. Different hubs around the event space each have a theme (i.e. Accelerating Innovation & Impact; Gender & the Global Health Arena; Measurement & Metrics; Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies; Pandemic Preparedness, etc).

Having attended the same event in 2014, I knew how to navigate the hubs a little better this year—coming prepared with thoughtful questions to fuel conversation and packing extra business cards to exchange. My current work at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health is not directly linked to global health challenges, so the TFGH event was a welcomed occasion to talk about some of the things I’m most interested in and aiming for in my professional development, specifically: impact evaluations, increasing health workforce capacity, and gender sensitivity in the post-2015 sustainable development goals.

17200289316_09272a026d_o-2This year the event also offered one-on-one mentoring sessions in ten minute blocks, with an impressive lineup of global health professionals that represented a breadth of sectors engaged in global health activities: private consultants, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and academic researchers. The mentoring blocks seemed to be a big hit – I was lucky enough to snag an opening at the very end – and though the mentor I was paired with wasn’t a great fit, it gave me the chance to reflect and talk about my experience with CFHI. I’m an alumna of CFHI’s South Africa programs (2010), and was deeply impressed with the organization’s values and approach to global health education. Although the mentor was seasoned with years of experience, she didn’t quite grasp the difference between humanitarian work and a broader global (public) health framework. It was in this encounter that I felt truly grateful for the very grounding influence of CFHI in my training. Moreover, I felt confident in articulating to the mentor that this model of learning involved examining and understanding contextual factors that influence health and shape health disparities; and that the reciprocal partnerships with communities creates more equitable and sustainable change. Again, a little preparation beforehand goes a long way in this setting, to identify an appropriate mentor and have specific questions for their guidance or opinion. Like many things I’ve come to learn about living in D.C., the opportunity of TFGH is what you make of it—it’s no place to be shy! For myself, this can be an intimidating envronment, so coordinating with a friend or colleague instead of going solo is a good option. And if you brave it again, like I did, odds are that you find you’re in good company after all!

Other annual and notable global health events to take advantage of if you live in the greater D.C. area:

Global Health Mini-University: http://www.mini-university.org/

Global Health & Innovation Conference: http://www.uniteforsight.org/conference/

Consortium of Universities for Global Health Conference: http://www.cugh.org/events/conference2015

 

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.

CFHI Unveils Inaugural Alumni Advisory Board

Over the past 23 years, Child Family Health International (CFHI) has transformed over 8,000 participants’ lives through our Global Health Education Programs in 7 countries. CFHI Global Health Scholars experience competency-based education and asset-based community development, while contributing to the transformational ways that CFHI’s partners address health and healing.

AAB logo

As experts in this approach, CFHI welcomes our alumni to contribute to our global health efforts in a new and influential way. CFHI is now accepting applications for its inaugural Alumni Advisory Board (AAB). Through the AAB, CFHI alumni will help shape our organization’s advocacy, education and development efforts, as well as the impact that CFHI Global Health Scholars have long after they return from their international programs.

The Alumni Advisory Board provides a structure to facilitate alumni interaction with CFHI, including soliciting alumni opinions and input, mobilizing alumni on CFHI’s behalf, encouraging intra-alumnus mentoring, and providing alumni an opportunity to stay involved in global health and CFHI in a formal/professional development fashion.

The AAB is 12 members with diverse professional background at varying stages of their career. The board will increase collaboration between CFHI alumni, staff and international partners—all committed to advancing CFHI’s mission and building the next generation of global health leaders.

AAB members will engage and benefit from the experience in various ways. For CFHI alumni in the early stages of their career, the board will provide an opportunity to build leadership skills, network with like-minded students and professionals, and further build their global health experience. AAB members who are further along in their careers can lend their expertise, mentor other CFHI alumni, or serve in a senior leadership role on the board. The AAB will enable our alumni to build on the cross-cultural relationships that were created during their CFHI experience and apply that knowledge to their personal and professional endeavors.

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CFHI is seeking a diverse pool of applicants for the Alumni Advisory Board of a variety of professional fields, education levels, and backgrounds. In addition, CFHI welcomes all skills including graphic design, social media, event planning, etc. AAB members will be a voice for their CFHI host community, therefore applicants will be chosen from CFHI’s 7 country sites—Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, India, Mexico, South Africa and Uganda.

Applications for CFHI’s inaugural Alumni Advisory Board are due by April 1st and can be filled out here. A committee consisting of CFHI Staff and Board of Directors will select AAB members for the 2015-2017 term by June 2015.

For more information, please contact alumni@cfhi.org.

CFHI Featured at AAFP Global Health Workshop

Child Family Health International’s  Quito, Ecuador Medical Director Dra. Susana Alvear and Global Medical Director Dr. Jessica Evert were featured in the closing keynote address of the 9th Annual AAFP Global Health Workshop.  Nearly 300 attendees from 25 countries attended to share ideas, evidence, and inspiration on topics ranging from global health education at US institutions to the proliferation of family medicine around the world to the ethical challenges of global engagements.

Drs. Alvear and Evert presented on the realization of ethical aspirations- breaking down ethical concepts into practical topics and tangible actions.  The presentation was warmly received.  Dr. Dan Ostergaard,  AAFP’s Vice President for Health of the Public and Interprofessional Activities emphasized the application of CFHI’s motto “Let the World Change You” for all trainees, faculty, and physicians active in global health.  He also emphasized the concept drilled home by Drs. Alvear and Evert that we should really speak of “Toward Equity” rather than “Equity” itself given the gross disparities around the world.  Drs. Evert and Alvear emphasized the ability of institutions and individuals from developed countries to highlight the value of assets in developing country contexts—for example, richness of culture, strong traditional medicine practices, resourcefulness, rather than emphasizing the disparities of financial resources in order to ‘level the playing field,’ a concept originating from CFHI’s former Executive Director, Steve Schmidbauer.

Great respect and admiration were expressed for CFHI’s leadership, program structure, and partnership model.

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

Compassion Across Borders -Letter to Huffington Post

John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises, sent a letter that has been published in the Huffington Post  about the benefits of the Service World Initiative –an effort to increase the international volunteering on all levels.  John explains, “Volunteer service by people of all nations should become a common strategy in meeting pressing challenges in education, health, the environment, agriculture and more.”  You can read John’s article at this link.  See also the June 30th  post on this Blog about Service World.  CFHI is part of a broader coalition of over 300 NGOs and Universities, and other organizations supporting Service World.  More information about Service World will be coming soon.