Archive for the ‘Global Health’ Tag

Patience is not my middle name

My grad school applications were completed weeks ago and the schools that I have applied to have logged the information into their respective system. I am relieved; well, I should be relieved. Unfortunately, I can’t help panicking a little about what the results will be. I went through the same stress while I waiting for college acceptance letters. Was my essay boring? Do I have the experience they are looking for? Will they all reject me?

The worst part is that I have a couple months of waiting ahead of me. Luckily my job promises to fill my schedule, blocking out future worrying time. How do you pass the time while waiting for results of major decisions?


How not to express disagreement with an issue

I have not come across many causes that stir up so many fervent emotions as some of the issues in public health: reproductive rights, vaccines, and HIV/AIDS among those. When I tell people that I plan to study public health, they speak about the need to help sick people in the world in an abstract manner with little consideration for the nuts and bolts of public health. Speaking about health can be just as controversial as the typically taboo topics of politics, religion and sex because you find all three have a role to play in communication and interventions.

Alanna Shaikh highlighted five of the more contentious issues in public health. I have had a couple incidents involving opposing viewpoints regarding vaccine safety and efficacy and the cause of AIDS. My previous post about my idea prompted an anonymous  comment that attacked me personally and included no scientific evidence to support claims that vaccines do more harm than good. I will repeat again that controversy over vaccine safety is largely a product of faulty communication, NOT faulty science. The development of vaccines represents one of the greatest successes of 20th-century medicine, making immunization of its own success.

My encounter with AIDS denialists that participated in the Ideas competition echoed some of the vehement reactions seen on’s Global Health blog regarding the recent tragic death of Christine Maggiore. As a person living with HIV who publicly questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, Maggiore was a controversial figure who helped to perpetuate misconceptions about HIV and ARV therapy. I had an exchange with the author of the idea aiming to question the link between HIV and AIDS after he left a comment on my idea that questioned my intentions and motivation. I left a response on my wall and have copied it below just in case you are curious to read it.

I would like to let any future commenters know that disagreement is appreciated and encouraged. Just don’t resort to attacking me personally and then to proceed to not back up your argument with some valid, factual pointers.

I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

I received a nice surprise when I checked email today. Ben Rattray of fame sent me an email saying that my idea made it to the final round of voting for the “Ideas for Change in America” competition.  The final round of voting begins at 8am ET on Monday, January 5th and ends at 5pm ET on Thursday, January 15th.

I have a favor to ask of you dear readers. Please vote for my idea, “Save Children from Preventable Diseases.” I can’t really provide any incentives other than the promise of good karma. C’mon, you want to do it. It’s for the kids. Vote here please!

Save Children from Preventable Diseases

Estimates show that approximately 11 million children die needlessly, primarily from preventable diseases such as measles, malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia. Most of the medical interventions cost pennies per child.

While no one would say fighting major epidemics such as HIV and tuberculosis are very important, these preventable diseases kill hundreds everyday needlessly.

Vaccines are one of modern history’s most important medical innovations yet they remain out of reach for millions of children. Generally rough conditions without necessary refridgeration and proper storage keep health professionals from delivering vaccines to those who need them most. Supporting research for affordable, portable and electricity-free refridgeration will help to keep the doses sufficiently chilled as they are delivered to communities.

Water-borne diseases like diarrhea can be treated with oral rehydration salts. The administration can take a lesson from The Coca Cola project which aims to include oral rehydration salts with every distribution of Coca Cola in developing countries. There are also countless filters to purify the water sources that people are able to find. All that remains is educating about the need for clean water.

Looking outside of the major three diseases of HIV, TB, and malaria could be a cost effective way to save millions of lives.

Selecting a school of public health

How do you whittle down over 40 schools of public health to a reasonable list of schools to apply to? Everyone has a different approach. I am sort of a spreadsheet queen, so I keep everything in a single Excel workbook and each school has an individual worksheet. I considered about 25 factors when looking at schools; here are my top four most important things to look at for selecting a school in no particular order.

1. Location, location, location.

Focusing on location is more important than your tendency to be snow averse or a ski bunny. Certain cities such as Atlanta will offer numerous public health internship and practicum opportunities. Obviously, having greater work experience upon graduation is a good position to find yourself in. Internships can also increase your chances of finding fulltime work soon after graduation.

2. Let your passions be your guide.

First and foremost, you need to look at the degree offerings of the schools. The most common credential for graduate-level public health study is the master of public health (MPH). Some schools offer other master’s-level degrees such as the master of health science (MHS) or the master of science in public health (MSPH). Consider the career path that you hope to take when choosing the degree you would like to pursue as some may have a more academic focus with an emphasis on research while others may be more professional in nature, targeted to teach specialized skills. Other degree options include doctorate-level study and joint degrees.

The next consideration should be the area of study that you would like to focus on, if any. Some areas of study, such as epidemiology and health care management will be available at almost every school of public health. My particular area of interest, global or international health, is not available at all schools of public health. Even when global health is available, it may not be an academic department, but rather an interdepartmental specialization or certificate. The academic structure of your area of study has an impact on research and practicum opportunities.

3. Bills, bills, bills.

It has always been important to weigh how to pay for graduate school. It has taken on a new level of importance with the credit crunch as student loans are harder to obtain. Let’s be honest; being a full-time student is far from a lucrative profession. This does not mean that you have to eat bread and water for two years. Most schools offer some merit-based grants to prospective and current students. Often, students apply for these scholarships with submission of their application. Location does play a role in your finances as a graduate student. Attending school in an area with a relatively low cost of living can go a long way to keeping costs down. Applicants should also consider the availability of part-time work if desired or required. Larger universities tend to have more teaching and research assistant positions available for graduate students.

4. Inside and outside the ivory tower.

A school’s research centers and institutes mean more than extra classroom reading. For students interested in a more academic focus, the more research, the better. For students wanting to work in the field, research centers represent opportunities to apply theories and methodologies in the classroom to real-world situations. Some universities give back to their surrounding communities by using the expertise of faculty and enthusiasm of students to improve conditions and outcomes. Even for international health, research institutes such as Columbia’s Millennium Villages Project offer students privileged access to putting their academic lessons  to the test through university-supported affiliates and organizations.

Check out these resources for more information for your select-a-school search:

US News and World Reports Best Graduate Schools in Public Health Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center
Your friends and acquaintances (look at educational history through a social networking site such as Linked In)

photo courtesy of S.C. Asher

Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty

My experiences this past year were as much about learning about challenges in global health as realizing how poverty compounds and exacerbates global health issues. The most important lesson I have learned is that nothing occurs in isolation. It will take a lot more than money to help eliminate poverty; focusing exclusively on economic development ignores many of the issues such as global health that contribute to the entrenched nature of poverty in communities worldwide. Participating in Blog Action Day seems an appropriate bookend to a year of volunteering abroad as an opportunity for your involvement.

Reading Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power really opened my eyes to the need to approach global health from the perspective of the poorest of the poor, reinforcing what I saw in my daily experiences. It’s hard to talk about reproductive rights when women do not have access to their own sources of income to assert those rights. It is hard to reduce childhood mortality due to preventable diseases such as malaria and waterborne diseases when families can not pay for access to clean water and bednets. When a mother can not afford to buy milk, encouraging adherence to HIV treatment seems like a pointless task.

Huge global problems such as global poverty remain invisible to many and seem daunting to those aware of the tremendous human impact. There is no quick fix to the problem of global poverty, but you can and should act now. It’s never too late to start and there is always something that you can do. The most important thing is to do something positive; inaction is truly the worst action to take. So speak up, stand up, show up, pay up…whatever it is that will contribute to the end of poverty.

– Learn more about global poverty issues from the ONE Campaign.

– Donate to the Blog Action Day-supported organizations: The Global Fund (via and Kiva.

– Look around in your community for volunteering opportunities to fight poverty. and Volunteer Match are good resources to begin your search.

– Use the web to connect to organizations abroad to offer your experience and time. NABUUR and UN Online Volunteering offer good starting points.