Education News

Global Health Students to Complete Six-Month Internships at Millennium Villages Project Sites

2008-06-24

Improving water quality and sanitation in rural Tanzania will be one of the challenges for public health students over the next six months. Emily Rubinstein, a Masters of Public Health student at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, is both excited and nervous to go into the field and put her skills to work on the public health issues facing a cluster of rural villages in Tanzania. Improving conditions for public health will be the focus of Emily’s research and training as she undertakes her six-month practicum, part of the Global Health Track (GHT) in the Masters of Public Health Program at the Mailman School of Public Health, in the Millennium Villages of Mbola, Tanzania.

Patients waiting to be seen at a health clinic in Sauri, Kenya. (photo credit: Geoffrey Garst, MPH '08)Five GHT students are about to embark on six-month internships at Millennium Villages Project (MVP) sites, where they will complete the GHT’s practicum requirement. While abroad, the students will be challenged to apply their classroom training to real-world public health problems such as HIV/AIDS, the management of clinics, adolescent health, vitamin supplementation, school health programs, and water sanitation.

Coordinated by The Earth Institute at Columbia University, the MVP internships will give students the chance to work side-by-side with researchers, health practitioners and policymakers in Tanzania, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda and Malawi. Africa has the greatest proportion of people living in extreme poverty—more than 40 percent, or roughly 300 million people living on less than $1 a day. The MVP has developed a unique approach to help rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

“I expect for many students these will be life changing months,” said Dr. Anne Paxton, Associate Clinical Professor of Epidemiology and Population and Family Health and Associate Director, Global Health Track, Mailman School of Public Health. “The MVP internships give the Global Health Track students an extraordinary opportunity to see rapid health and community development improvements in rural settings, and to work with excellent multidisciplinary teams of scientists, agronomists, physicians, and community development experts both in the MVs and at the Earth Institute in New York.”

Under the supervision of the community health and science coordinators in Mbola, Emily will map out existing water sources and identify new sources to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals’ targets; assess the quality of water and the health impacts of contaminated water; train schools and households in participatory hygiene and sanitation training; and assist in the development of a five-year water and sanitation strategy for the village.

One of many fish farms in Sauri, Kenya. (photo credit: Geoffrey Garst, MPH '08) “What attracted me to the MVPs was the big-picture approach to public health. I really like that the villages realize that everything contributes to health, which is something I strongly believe in and which is why, as an engineer, I'm interested in public health,” Emily said. Many people in Mbola have little or no access to clean water, and suffer from water-borne diseases. The few shallow wells in the villages are easily contaminated with mud during the seven-month long dry season. Emily continued, “I think this will be one of the biggest learning experiences of my life.”

Global Health is an inter-departmental track directed by Pamela Collins, MD, MPH. An integral part of the GHT experience is the six-month overseas practicum, beginning during the summer after students’ first year and ending after the fall semester of the second year. The six-month MVP internships aim to strengthen students’ tangible technical expertise as well as their foreign language, public service, and community coordination skills.

The five students who will complete their practicum requirement at MVP sites are Emily Rubinstein, Magdalena Kendall and Omar Ebeid with the Department of Epidemiology; Sarah Gorrell with the Department of Sociomedical Sciences; and Hana Azman with the Department of Population and Family Health.

Sarah Gorrell will work on multiple adolescent health initiatives in Ruhiira, Uganda, including partnering with the MVP team to develop education programs targeted to adolescents. Ruhiira is well known for having the highest tuberculosis prevalence in southwestern Uganda. Malaria is also endemic, with preliminary results from recent blood sampling showing 30% malaria prevalence.

School children line up for lunch at Bar Sauri Primary School in Sauri, Kenya. High-efficiency cook stoves save time and fuelwood and cut down on harmful indoor pollution. (photo credit: Geoffrey Garst, MPH '08) Before she departs for Ruhiira, Sarah will meet with Dr. Mariana Kastrinakas, Adjunct Senior Research Scientist at The Earth Institute’s Center for Global Health and Economic Development and advisor to the MVP on adolescent health projects. Over the last several years, the MVP team has supported communities to develop implementation work plans for agriculture, education, health, home improvement, and village banking. The plans have been extremely well-received by villagers and local government and will soon be applied on a broader scale.

The GHT equips students to advance the health of global populations through collaboration, advocacy, and the development of soundly assessed policies, programs, and interventions that are sensitive to the dynamics of power and diversity. The unique interdisciplinary approach and intensive six month practicum, the longest required by a global health program in the nation, make this program stand out globally in public health education.

 

The GHT accepts Mailman School applicants to the following six departments: Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Environmental Health Sciences, Population and Family Health, Health Policy and Management, and Sociomedical Sciences.

For more information about the Global Health Track, please contact Aravind Pillai, Program Coordinator at (212) 342-0179 or ap2664@columbia.edu. For more information about the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, please contact Alysa Turkowitz, Program Manager at (212) 305-3466 or aat2009@columbia.edu.

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The photos in this article were taken by Geoffrey Garst, a 2008 Masters of Public Health recipient in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences/Global Health Track at the Mailman School of Public Health. Geoffrey completed his six-month practicum requirement at the Millennium Villages in Sauri, Kenya, where he organized village-wide surveys and assessments and helped to train community health workers and school teachers, primarily in the field of malaria control. Geoffrey is continuing his work in global health by attending medical school at Ben Gurion University of the Negev's Medical School for International Health in Beer Sheva, Israel.

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The Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University is a leader in defining new trends in the field of global health. Mounting health disparities around the globe demand that we think creatively and act collaboratively beyond our borders. By embracing a truly interdisciplinary approach, Mailman continues to respond effectively to global public health challenges as it works with local and international partners. The faculty’s innovations in research, services delivery, and teaching prepare students to sustain and expand upon Mailman’s current successes, becoming tomorrow’s public health leaders.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world's leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. With 850 scientists, postdoctoral fellows and students working in and across more than 20 Columbia University research centers, it is helping to advance nine interconnected global issues: climate and society, water, energy, poverty, ecosystems, public health, food and nutrition, hazards and urbanization. The Earth Institute is implementing solutions to global challenges; pioneering research; advising national governments, the United Nations and other international agencies; and educating the next generation of leaders in sustainable development.