UC Berkeley Students Embark on Global Health Summer Fellowships

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Every summer, students from across UC Berkeley eagerly plan and prepare for overseas adventures. Many have ambitions to explore the world, learn new things, create lifelong memories, and seek adventure. And for some, high on the to-do checklist is to improve the lives of those less fortunate, in resource-poor communities far, far away from the sprawling green lawns and clear blue skies of the UC Berkeley campus.

Annually, the UC Berkeley Center for Global Public Health (CGPH/SPH) and the Henry Wheeler Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases (CEND) award summer fellowships to both graduate and undergraduate students to pursue their passion for global health. This summer, twenty fellows have travelled far and wide to international sites and universities in 12 countries for faculty-mentored global health opportunities tied to large, collaborative global studies. Bay Area global health faculty and researcher mentors who support the students from day one hail mainly from UC Berkeley School of Public Health, as well a handful of faculty from UCSF Global Health Sciences; though many students also find mentorship in-country with local collaborators.

Where are the fellows? Among the countries–Nepal, Kenya, Tanzania, Nicaragua, China, India, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, Mexico, Panama, and Uganda. The work covers a spectrum of population health efforts. CGPH Fellow and graduate student, Andrew Mertens, commutes by rickshaw every morning to the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research in Bangladesh for his project, a longitudinal study on the effect of sanitation improvements on household environmental contamination and children’s enteric health. His fieldwork includes driving north to Mymensingh to shadow lab staff and learn laboratory techniques, and then visiting study households to take additional soil samples to count soil-transmitted helminth (STH) parasite eggs.

Zach Olson, also a CGPH fellow, is in Salvador, Brazil spending the bulk of his time at the Institute of Collective Health where there is a team working to link Brazil’s welfare database to several healthcare databases. Nerissa Nance, working with UC Berkeley SPH Professor Sandra McCoy, is in Shinyanga, Tanzania to set up data collection components for a community health initiative to integrate ART with maternal, newborn, and child health services (MNCH).

Perhaps those being most inspired by the work are the young undergraduates, many of whom are working abroad for the first time in their lives. Remy Fuentes, a rising senior who is a CEND/MHIRT Fellow and work-study student at CGPH, is studying Intimate Partner Violence Interventions in Bangalore, India with the St. John’s Research Institute. Other undergraduate global health fellows are diving into the infectious disease sciences, from HIV transcription in China (Alex McGill), to Malaria in Uganda being led by UCSF researchers (Christine Lam), to Dengue in Nicaragua with the Sustainable Sciences Institute (Stephania Ramirez and Erica Portillo). The undergraduate students are blogging their experiences, which can be found here.

While most of the competitive awards are given in the fields of infectious disease, maternal and child health, and environmental health, the awards also include transdisciplinary pursuits. For example, CGPH sends 1-2 Global Health Reporting Fellows into the field every summer to create a work of journalism investigating issues related to health equity. This year, MPH/MBA student, Grace Lesser, travelled to Nepal and India to document stories on women’s reproductive health and decision-making in the aftermath of the Nepal Earthquake. Chantal Hillebrand’s summer project is in City and Urban Planning.

For a full list of students and their projects, please visit the CGPH and CEND websites. And if you are interested in learning more about their summer research and experiencs, the global health fellows will be showcasing in a UC Berkeley Global Health Fellows Symposium on September 18, 2015 from 9:00-5:00pm at UC Berkeley’s Sutardja Dai Hall. 

Photo Credit: Grace Lesser, 2015 CGPH Global Health Reporting Fellow