GlobeMed: An Engineering Perspective

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By John Galyas

Before I stepped foot on campus to begin my freshman year at Northwestern, I knew I wanted to join GlobeMed. I had spent the last few weeks of the long summer before my freshman year Googling anything and everything about Northwestern in an admittedly overeager and futile attempt at preparing for the transition to college life. However, it was during these browsing sessions that I first discovered GlobeMed. At that point in my life, I knew I had a vague interest in global health and that as an engineering student, I wouldn’t have room to take many extra global health classes outside of the rigid engineering curriculum.

During my first few weeks on campus, I prioritized joining GlobeMed over the hundreds of other student groups because of the opportunities it provided to engage with global health. Since then, I’ve learned more than I possibly could have imagined as that overeager freshman. My experience in GlobeMed has had a profound impact on my college experience, and it’s an experience I’m incredibly thankful to have had over the last four years. While I’ve certainly learned a great deal from our weekly chapter discussions on global health, I think what has impacted me the most during my time in GlobeMed is the partnership model. As natural as it may seem to focus on sustainability and collaboration in development work, it is unfortunately not always the norm. This has only become more evident to me through my experiences as an engineering student.

At its core, engineering is simply problem solving, but often with an element of technical design. Engineering “culture” doesn’t always prioritize social consciousness and collaboration, particularly in situations related to international development. However, the most elegant and effective solutions to engineering problems frequently incorporate some element of social design. It is crucial to understand how the social world will interact with and utilize technology in order to formulate and design the best possible solution to the problem. Through my time in GlobeMed, I’ve learned the importance of cultural and contextual awareness when analyzing a problem via the partnership model, as well as the always engaging weekly discussions held during our chapter meetings.

The partnership model is focused on building sustainable relationships and solutions – doing so requires keen communication and social awareness. My involvement in GlobeMed has allowed me to gain intimate familiarity with the partnership model and it has provided me with a unique perspective in my engineering training – a perspective that I believe will make me a more effective engineer as I graduate and launch my professional career. At the end of the day, what is most important to me is that my work will directly improve the lives of people everywhere. I firmly believe that GlobeMed has provided me the perspective required to utilize my technical skills in order to develop the best solutions to maximize the effectiveness and impact of my work.


Lessons From “Around the World”

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By Tamar Eisen

The most common question I have heard after returning to Northwestern for winter quarter is, “How was the world?” The reason I am consistently asked this question is because last fall, I went on a semester-long comparative health program to India, South Africa and Brazil. While I did reach three continents, spent time in ten different cities, and got to experience three distinct cultures, I can still say that I barely scratched the surface of the world itself. Moreover, when I try to answer this question to a friend or professor, I usually do not have time to get into the complexities and intricacies of the state of these three countries, so I tend to settle with the response, “The world was good.” I guess now that I have the space, I can delve into this answer a bit further.

In each place we visited, we obtained a comprehensive understanding of the country’s governing health system, epidemiological profile, major barriers to health outcomes, traditional healing mechanisms, public-private divide, and potential health reforms and innovations through classes and guest lectures. But no class could have prepared me for the overcrowded, understaffed, ill-equipped hospital we observed in rural India or the highly racialized nature of healthcare in South Africa or the plight of the poor living in urban dwellings across São Paulo, Brazil. An overwhelming sense of shock encompassed me as we discussed HIV, food insecurity, homelessness and violence against transgender populations in the shadows of the White House and Capitol Hill. My trip was, almost on a daily basis, a brutal confrontation with the realities of poverty, gender inequality, poor sanitation, hunger, racism, climate change, human rights violations, discrimination, and social, economic, political inequities.

But of course it was not all bad. We visited grassroots, non-profit organizations in India that worked towards better health whether it be by promoting LGBT health rights, repurposing scrap material to make female sanitary napkins, instituting children governments in rural villages, or developing compostable and economically affordable toilets. We heard stories of hope in South Africa through our conversations with the Treatment Action Campaign, who successfully fought and advocated for the introduction of anti-retroviral drugs and a universal government-provided AIDS treatment program during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We visited a Quilombo in rural Brazil – a community of individuals descending from runaway slaves – who asserted their identity to claim land rights from the Brazilian government. And we witnessed the success of Brazil’s publically funded health care system, SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde), which provides free and universal healthcare to all of its citizens.

Through these experiences I have learned to interrogate the world around me, to take a second glance at the seemingly obvious, and to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty. I’ve come to find that the world is complicated and contradictory and ironic; it can sometimes be a really awful place, but also an amazing one where people come together to create things that are beautiful.

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A freshman’s take on joining GlobeMed and going on GROW

By Neil Thivalapill

This will probably be a very disorganized post because I can’t organize my thoughts for the life of me. So, here it goes:

GlobeMed. Level with me here, your club SOUNDS like it is filled with Pre-meds who want to save the world with their *expert medical knowledge* or at least convince medical schools that that’s what their end goal is. And I’ll admit, that was definitely a reason that I applied to GlobeMed. But damn, you guys did not fit that stereotype and I am so thankful you didn’t for essentially two reasons: I hate Pre-meds, and you guys have opened my eyes to the world of global health and social justice. My freshman experience at GlobeMed really did change me. It made me sadder but in a good way. I know that doesn’t really make sense but hear me out. Before joining GlobeMed, I didn’t understand health disparities, or social determinants of health, or really much of global health in general. Granted, I still don’t know a lot, but having my eyes opened this much to the field of social justice and global health was a lot to deal with. But it was comforting to know that I was and am still surrounded by people who get sad when they think of the current state of global health.

For some reason, I clearly remember repeating “I just love the community” when asked what about GlobeMed appeals to me. I mean come on, how could I sit there and tell the GROW Team coordinator and co-president, “Yeah the name of this club really jives with medical school.” Knowing both my interviewers now that would NOT have been a great answer. But I digress. Community. I definitely found it as a freshman, which I really did not believe would happen because I had this preconception that everybody hates freshman. But I found it nonetheless. I found it when at the new member retreat, at the reading of the Michael Brown verdict, at the Ugly Sweater Sale and at every chapter meeting (I hate how cheesy this sounds). I found people who cry when they think about global health disparities, who are not the conventional pre-meds and who are not pre-med but are fascinated by health. And I think these are the kinds of people I want to surround myself with for as long as possible.

When I got a missed call from Carol, I was walking back to my room from Norris and I thought I had been turned down. But I wasn’t really disappointed because I wasn’t expecting much. Then I saw that she left a voicemail and I began to question her life choices because who leaves voicemails in the 21st century. And then I listened to it and I guess the rest is history. To be completely honest, I am very scared for GROW. I can’t believe that we are less than 14 days from leaving and I consistently worry about messing up. What if I end up participating in voluntourism and leave a negative effect on the community there? What if I don’t immerse myself in the culture fully? What if I become a victim of racial profiling on the journey? None of these won’t matter in the end though, because past GROW members have told me that there is a good man waiting on the other side for us. And I really can’t wait to meet him.


ghU Recap: Voluntourism

By Amy Lin

Last quarter, the ghU sessions delved into the topics of gender and sexuality. While the sessions were empowering and fun as a woman, it was easy to get swept up in the feminist movement and start saying things like “gender is a social construct” and “down with the patriarchy.” The ghUs addressed these topics, but went even further in discussing the surrounding social environment. We talked about the personal issues with acceptance and social norms, and then went on to shed a light on the larger implications of the inequalities, especially with regards to access to healthcare and other rights.

While ghU’s always create dialogue about these important issues, the discussion often feels like it ends when the meeting ends. With our new focus on advocacy, it’s exciting to understand the beginnings, principles, and history of activism; in addition, it’s inspiring to be able to see the potential influence and change that student activists can bring to campus, and even beyond campus. .

We started the quarter with the focus on voluntourism, a hot-button topic that was sure to generate discussion due to GlobeMed members’ interest in global health. With our foundation rooted in the partnership model and making sure that our partners don’t just “listen to the donors,” exploring advocacy in the health field provoked a lot of questions regarding the benefits and shortcomings of voluntourism. During the debate, a lot of the issues raised were with regards to the White Savior Complex, the inherent power dynamic, the lack of sustainable support, and the limited opportunities in-country growth and development.

While the intentions of service trips may come from a good place and the relief provided may have significant short-term impact, it’s comparable to putting a single band-aid on a festering, gaping wound. The band-aid isn’t going to be helping that much, but it’s better than completely ignoring the problem. The voluntourism programs do succeed in one area: raising awareness for the needs in certain areas. While volunteers and tourists are being sent to these areas, these programs need to ensure that their participants are responsibly and respectfully engaging in these communities.

As short-term relief is being provided, more discussions need to be had about how to create self-sustainable programs that can promote growth, development, and eventually independence from foreign aid. It’s naive to think that this can happen overnight or within a few years. Government, policies, and infrastructure all need to come in play; however, if all the innovative organizations and groups keep implementing responsible actions abroad, then their cumulative  efforts can equip people in the communities to create change from the bottom up.

With the upcoming ghUs, we are going to be shifting our focus to student activists and organizations on our very own campus. Learning from our peers, we can use the skills and lessons they’ve learned and implement them to advocate for not only GlobeMed related global health issues but also other important causes that need advocating.

Amy is a member of the ghU committee at Northwestern.


Voices On Transgender Community

By Elizabeth Kim

This winter quarter’s GHUs at GlobeMed Northwestern has focused on gender and sexuality, of which transgender has been a topic of discussion. The overwhelming consensus in the discussions and in US classrooms is that there is not enough education regarding these issues, especially defining specific terms such as transgender, travestite, and transexual. Despite the general lack of information and understanding, recent events in the media have triggered conversations about the transgender community in the United States.

On February 5, Barry Williams of the TV show Brady Brunch appeared in an interview on Huffington Post Live. Toward the end of the clip, Williams suggests he should go transgender as former Olympian and Kardashians father Bruce Jenner, who recently got a lot of publicity for a car accident, did for publicity of his show and career. When the host tries to explain the internal complexity of transforming into transgender, Williams replies, “I am an actor, I can handle it.”

There are certainly some people who will have just the same response as Williams. Some will persistently ignore the fact that there is a deeper mental and emotional process underlying those questioning their identities. As incorrect as they may be, these are the opinions that instigate further nationwide conversations on critical issues.

But this should not be the case every time an important discussion needs to be held. A negative comment cannot be the basis of a social movement in a country that boasts of freedom of speech and right to participate and pursue happiness.

Those who believe in their right to have an equal part need to let their voices be heard because until the conversation starts going two-ways, there will still be people who will make light of and continue to deny someone else’s personal emotional and physical struggle to become who they want to be.

Aydian Dowling, a trans model, recently set an example of combatting the ignorance about the trans community with his latest photoshoot. Dowling recreates the look of Adam Levine’s naked photoshoot in Cosmopolitan UK in 2011. While Levine’s photo promoted raising awareness for prostate cancer, Dowling’s sends a positive yet urgent message about the need for transparency and visibility of the trans community worldwide.

The author of the Refinery article who reposts the picture closes by saying, “We’re also looking forward to a day when it isn’t necessary to recreate the action of a cis celebrity to prove that the relationship between gender and appearance is more than meets the eye.”

Celebrities and on-air personalities tend to pervade the media on a daily basis; as a result, they are often the ones to start conversations and movements and receive strong criticism. These are short-lived, however, if they are not supported by informed citizens who want to stop perpetual cycles of ignorance about not only the LGBTQ community but also other racial groups and nations as well.

Readings:

http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/02/bruce-jenner-transgender-e-docuseries.html

 


A History Of Failure: Why Global Health’s Past Is Important For Its Future

By Nida Bajwa

Anyone who has studied global health knows that the field is wrought by many many failures, and very few successes. It is easy to get discouraged from the field when analyzing the immense amount of failure and repetition of those failures in the field. However, in analyzing these failed histories perhaps we can arrive at a greater future. As students, what is our role? What do we want to achieve from our global health education? How can we take a history of failures and turn it into success?

The relationship between politics and global health is immense, and can be traced back to colonialism. The commonality that exists today is that healthcare to poor, developing countries is delivered by westerners who come in and impose their set of values upon the people, an idea borne from colonialism. In some hundreds of years, not much has changed. The white man’s burden rechanneled itself into delivery of global health around the world. Similarly, racism in America has found new channels but has not left us. To this day, America is a country with institutionalized, systematic racism. That racism is the same racism of the 1600s that began slavery, the same racism of the 1950s that spurred the civil rights movement, and the same racism that spurred the Ferguson protests just months back. Similarly, global health today is still a field that is battling with that stigma, a stigma that was embedded very deeply in our colonial history.

Sadly, global health has oft been used as a tool by those in power. Interestingly enough, the mortality rates of blacks vs. whites in hot climates served as justification for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. A measure of health, associated with progress and development, thus aided in justifying a brutal system of slavery. The same determinants global health advocates use to try to do good were used to do evil. The same determinants used to grant equity in healthcare were used to justify racism, colonialism, conquest, and the lingering consequences of these institutions we are still feeling today and quite possibly will reverberate for the rest of American history. You can’t escape your colonial past, you can only work with it.

Paul Farmer, an anthropologist in the field of global health, discusses the impact of colonialism and history in an essay titled “An Anthropology of Structural Violence.” In the essay, he explains the idea of structural violence as the oppressive systems in play which all those who are engaged in take part in, perhaps subconsciously. As American citizens, we are thus responsible for structural violence, whether or not we personally engage.

So how do we, as students move forward? How do we escape America’s colonial past? The answer is uncertain, but it is clear that some form of systematic change has to occur, most likely at a political and a social level. In order to truly impact change on a health level, you have to impact change on a social scale. Until systematic racism is no longer in play, how can health ever be equal? We will have to think critically as a nation, as students, and as global citizens in effecting change and hopefully, one day, we can undo the years and years of colonialism and the damage it has caused around the world.


Gates Foundation/Flickr

Guinea Worm Eradication in Nigeria, A Lesson To Learn From

By Gordon Younkin

You may have seen in the news a little over a year ago that the WHO declared Nigeria free of guinea-worm disease. While this may be considered old news, it is still worth examining the campaign that successfully stopped its transmission.

Guinea-worm disease, also known as dracunculiasis, infects people via contaminated waterways, especially in slow-moving streams or stagnant pools. After entering the human body, it stays matures in its host without causing any symptoms for about a year before painfully emerging from the skin of the infected individual. It then releases thousands of larvae, and its life-cycle repeats. There is no vaccine or treatment for the disease—it is most effectively stopped through preventative measures such as water purification and behavioral change.

In 1988, the Nigeria Guinea Worm Eradication Programme was launched in response to a World Health Assembly resolution calling for the global eradication of the disease. At the time, there were around 650,000 reported cases of guinea-worm disease in Nigeria alone. Over the course of the 25-year campaign, thousands of volunteers traveled door-to-door in communities across the county to search for and contain the disease.

What I think is most notable is the use of polio vaccinators to help in the surveillance efforts. The campaign was able to use existing health workers already familiar with the communities and culture to more quickly and efficiently eradicate guinea-worm disease. It is this kind of cooperation between different public health efforts that is crucial to the continuing improvement of health worldwide. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), commended the collaborative guinea-worm disease eradication effort: “This is the kind of joined-up effort that makes the most effective use of our human and financial resources, and has a dramatic and measurable impact.”

The last case of guinea-worm disease in Nigeria was reported in 2008, and the country was declared Guinea Worm free in late 2013. While the polio vaccination campaign is still in progress due to a number of cultural and infrastructural barriers, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is committed to stopping the transmission of wild poliovirus by the end of 2015.

If you are interested in more information about guinea-worm disease eradication efforts in Nigeria, some useful references are:

http://www.who.int/features/2014/nigeria-stops-guinea-worm/en/

http://www.punchng.com/news/who-certifies-nigeria-guinea-worm-free/


Co-Founder Reflects on GlobeMed Beginnings

By Alissa Zhu

With more than 50 chapters spread across colleges and universities across North America, it’s hard to imagine less than a decade ago, GlobeMed was only an idea in Victor Roy’s head.

GlobeMed co-founder Victor Roy Skyped in from the United Kingdom Sunday afternoon to converse with about 20 students. He spoke about the origins of GlobeMed and hosted a lively discussion on the future of global health engagement programs.

When Victor was an undergraduate student at Northwestern in 2004, the global health program was still in its infancy. He and co-founder Peter Luckow were frustrated with the lack of options to make lasting and tangible change in impoverished communities around the world. They realized donating money and medical supplies wasn’t enough, and that a partnership was the best way to promote sustainable growth.

GlobeMed’s first-ever partnership with the HOPE Center in Ho, Ghana had a rocky start. Victor talked about how students from a different organization at Northwestern had donated funds to build a public health center and had hired someone to oversee the development of the clinic. However, the person they hired was an outsider to the community without the connections and resources to build the clinic the students envisioned and the village needed.

The building was lying vacant when Victor visited the grounds of what would eventually become the HOPE Center. He spoke to local director Joseph Achana who expressed his frustration over the lack of progress over the health center due to inefficiencies and lack of communication. When Victor asked why communication issues were so prevalent, Joseph said something the GlobeMed co-founder would never forget.

“We are Africans so we listen to our donors.”

Knowing this isn’t the way things had to be, GlobeMed at Northwestern and Joseph built a partnership on the foundation of cooperation and mutual learning. After the association with HOPE concluded, GlobeMed strived to carry on the tradition of open dialogue with the new partner organization, the Adonai Center for Child Development.

Global engagement at Northwestern has grown by leaps and bounds since GlobeMed was first founded. The Buffett Center, International Program Development, and GESI are a few of the many resources that help students confront global challenges. Even so, we have a lot more to learn on how to make a difference in the world while avoiding accidental harm. Moving forward, our new advocacy initiative will endeavor to raise awareness about just that.


Learning from the Girls of Uganda

By Amanda Blazek

This past summer Neha, Rafa, and I comprised our GROW team. Every summer, the GROW team travels to the site of GlobeMed’s partner organization – the Adonai Child Development Centre in Namugoga, Uganda – to assess the status of previous fundraising initiatives, get to know the staff members at Adonai and the surrounding community, and carry out a research project. As three girls that went on the trip, we were interested in conducting a research project that related to assessing the wellbeing of girls. In Namugoga, as in much of Uganda and Sub Saharan Africa, there exists a large gender discrepancy in the education system, as boys attend and complete school at much higher rates than girls. We wanted to carry out a research project to examine the obstacles that girls face in the community to attending and completing school; our goal is to present our findings to the Adonai Centre, and implement necessary projects or initiatives into our future partnership plans with Adonai.

Due to our research exploring the nature of girl’s education, we spoke to over 20 girls about their experience growing up in the community, diving into topics ranging from school systems to families to community expectations. These significant conversations allowed us to connect with these young women and form personal relationships with community members from the start. Their insightful responses not only aided us in our research, but allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of the culture in which we worked and learned. One young woman in particular stands out – a 15 years old who dropped out of school due to having a baby at the age of 13. She spoke to us of her responsibilities as a mother, of the circumstances that led her to become pregnant, and her inability to return to school after the birth of her child. This young mother embodied many of the issues we were looking to address in our research, and being able to hear of her situation firsthand was moving and meaningful for all of us.

A young mother and her child in their Namugoga home.

It is one thing to hear about Adonai during our meetings; it is a very different thing to visit the center firsthand. Meeting the staff members, children and community members made us so proud of our partnership, and showed us how special Adonai truly is. Aloysious Luswata, the director of Adonai, and his wife Abby were essential in aiding us throughout the trip, especially with our research. Abby helped to set up many of the interviews – as she knows the girls in the community – and came along to translate for us when need be. Their help allowed us to immerse ourselves as much as possible, and connect with people we otherwise would not have been able to.

Aloysious, Abby, Nobel, and Janet Luswata pose with the 2014 GROW team.

I don’t think any of us expected the experience to be as memorable as it was. Through our research and time spent with community members, we all got a sense that GlobeMed’s partnership really is making a tangible impact in the community.

 


Putting Emotion Front and Center Once Again

By Nicholas Wang

We are inching closer to Article 25’s Day of Action on October 25. If all goes according to plan, it will be a monumental day for this brand new organization, which was founded within the past year by university students who had a simple idea for a grassroots global health advocacy organization. From that idea came the long, grueling process of formulating a tangible vision and plan for what this organization would look like and could accomplish. Long meetings both in person and over Google Hangout, hours upon hours of research and organization, aggressive network-building, and coordinated social media blitzes have all led up to a single day: October 25. There are events planned all over the world in more than 40 different countries with thousands of people attending and participating, from accomplished professionals to eager students to families and individuals that lack access to basic healthcare, all united in the belief that health is a human right. Quite the accomplishment for a young organization like Article 25.

But I think that oft-told narrative I outlined above ignores a key point: before there was the simple idea for a grassroots global health advocacy organization, there was a feeling, an emotion. It surfaced during classroom discussions, in assigned readings and documentaries, while traveling to and observing different neighborhoods and cities and countries, during conversations with classmates, friends, family, teachers and faculty, about politics, economics, policy, health, and society. It was the feeling that there was something wrong with the world, that it wasn’t quite fair that some people were born with access to health and others weren’t, that location, income, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion could become a factor in determining whether you died young or old. And it was the emotion of frustration and anger at the world and the system for allowing this to happen, coupled with an overwhelming desire to do something about it. It inspired enthusiastic conversations between the young students who founded the organization, and permeates all of the events that will occur on October 25. We all feel this same passion, rooted in frustration and fueled by optimism and hope for the future: that there is something wrong and we should do something about it.

I know I felt that passion when I first heard about Article 25 and our Day of Action back in June. As Amee Amin and Jason Pace told me more about this organization and what they were hoping to accomplish, I sensed that this was not just a worthy cause and a worthy use of my time. It was something of a calling, an indescribable force that drew me in and made me want to shout from the mountaintops that health is a human right and we can do something about it. This organization empowered me to take my global health education to the next level, to step up my commitment, to join with these other like-minded individuals and create the change we want to see.

As the weeks went on, and the logistics got more and more complicated, and my mind started drifting towards the ever-approaching start of my senior year of college, I admit that the passion waxed and waned, often replaced with the dull regular reminder that I needed to get work done for Article 25. It was routine and often clerical and not as exciting, thrilling, or romantic as I had secretly envisioned it to be. To make matters worse, we are a team that is spread out all around the country, from Boston to Los Angeles, and bonding and building community via Google Hangout is difficult.

But now more than ever, with the Day of Action upon us, I think it is time for us to rekindle the spirit and passion and enthusiasm that we all once had. That is the core of what drives us to spend hours planning events and detailing logistics and sending dozens of emails. When you strip everything else away, what remains is that feeling that something is wrong, and that coinciding emotion that tells us to be both angry and hopeful. Our emotions are what will make the Day of Action meaningful and memorable, and are what will help this incredible organization continue long past October 25. If you are not yet part of our movement but feel the way we do, we encourage you to join us on our Day of Action, wherever you might be. You, like me, should feel excited, enthusiastic, and empowered about being able to make a tangible difference in our world.