Sunday, November 3, 2013

Students find inspiration in the diversity of global health

Diversity was a primary topic throughout Saturday’s APHA Student Assembly Annual National Student Meeting. So it was fitting that the students’ public health interests were as diverse, though many are focusing on how they can help people globally.

Yves-Yvette Young said one of the biggest global health issues is reproductive health among adolescents.

“In some places they don’t have comprehensive sexual education programs. Kids need to at least know what they’re getting themselves into so they can protect themselves….It’s a big problem worldwide,” she said.

Young, who is an undergraduate psychology major at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, spent the past two summers interning at Johns Hopkins as part of the Diversity Summer Internship Program. There, she had the opportunity to get involved in the Well-Being of Adolescents in Vulnerable Environments Study. She examined the reproductive health component, finding that the age of onset of sex is decreasing worldwide.

“Kids don’t have access to a good reproductive health network; that’s where the problem is,” she explained.

Taj Azarian, a PhD student at the University of Florida in Gainesville, is studying genomic epidemiology of infectious diseases. He said one of the biggest global health issues we face is emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, such as the cholera outbreak in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

He is involved in research examining the impact of the cholera epidemic on the country’s infrastructure and how the disease is being transmitted. Thousands have died in the last three years, and hundreds of thousands have been sickened — all from a disease that didn’t previously exist in Haiti.

“Infectious diseases have shaped history a number of times,” Azarian said. “We’ve seen this with global flu pandemics, previous cholera epidemics…Every time we think we’ve figured out a disease, a new disease emerges.”

All this talk of global health has inspired Ragan Hart, who is earning a master’s degree in genetic epidemiology at the University of Washington in Seattle. Her interests lie in chronic diseases in the U.S., but after today’s presentations, she wants to seek out a global health fellowship.

“I just had a self reflection today,” she said. A few years ago she took part in a mission trip to Honduras. It had been a personal journey, one she had not connected to her professional goals. But, she said, now she sees how she could use her public health expertise in a community outside the US to help “with whatever the community needs.”

Debbie Huang, a master’s of public health student at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, is hoping to gain inspiration during the next several days at the Annual Meeting. “I’m still trying to find my niche,” she said. “That’s part of my goal of this conference…I’m here to gain some wisdom.”

— M.P.

(Above photos from top to bottom: Yves-Yvette Young, Taj Azarian, Ragan Hart, Debbie Huang. Photos by Melanie Padgett Powers.)

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