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International travel teaches students global aspects of public health

by UofL Today last modified Jun 15, 2011 11:06 AM

MaAdwoa Asamoah grew up in Ghana and still visits regularly for holidays.

International travel teaches students global aspects of public health

Top photo: Muriel Harris, second from left, and students meet with Dakpema, chief of Tamale (seated), and Duli-lana Ibrahim Yussif, standing far right. Bottom Photo: SPHIS students Caitlin Wills, MaAdwoa Asamoah, Flora Daniel and Tanya Renn.

Going there as a first-year student in the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences, however, changed her life’s direction.

Asamoah and three other students traveled to Ghana in May with assistant professor Muriel Harris to conduct a feasibility study on improving maternal health.

“Ghana loses 560 mothers for every 100,000 live births,” Harris said. “That is a tremendous loss to the country, many of which can be avoided.”

Harris and the students spent three weeks in and around Tamale visiting with community members and leaders, health care professionals, officials at the University for Development Studies (UDS) and with traditional birth attendants to find out some of the issues they face. They identified a lack of health care facilities, shortage of health care providers, lack of basic amenities and lack of transportation to the available facilities as critical factors in poor maternal health.

“I knew there were issues, but this trip brought the issues closer to home,” Asamoah said. “It has changed my focus and the way I think. I wish to go back home as a medical doctor to work and live there so I can pass on the knowledge I have acquired from the United States.”

Sharing information and resources also is part of Harris’ plan. She and her team will compile their study results and recommendations into a report, and they are looking for ways to collaborate with Tamale Teaching Hospital and UDS to expand resources for service delivery, research, teaching and learning, she said.

“In addition, we will support community development for a community of about 1,200 people to improve primary education and access to health care,” she said.

This was the second trip to Ghana for Harris and SPHIS students. Last year, they focused their work on malaria, which — as a top-10 cause of death in the country — is another significant public health problem, she said.

Their work, Harris said, shows that looking at health equity issues allows more opportunities for collaboration to address major public health problems and also shows the importance of intersectoral collaboration to address root causes and social determinants of health.

By traveling to and working in Ghana, “students learn not only the global nature of public health and the difference in resources, but also the resilience and determination of a committed people to improve the health of the population,” she said.

Students who went to Ghana last year and this year said that the trips provided experiences that they could not have received in the United States.

“Meeting with locals in the health care field and hearing their concerns in their own environment … helped me to see what kinds of public health problems exist. It further enforced the idea that my goal in public health is to help improve quality of life,” said first-year SPHIS student Caitlin Wills. “This opportunity was the experience of a lifetime, and I will carry the lessons I have learned with me in everything I do in public health.”

“It was a wonderful experience for all of us,” Harris said.

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