Thursday, February 07, 2008

Brown Bag Report: Global Public Health

Jessica Bruce (IPE '08) contributes this report on the February 6 Brown Bag Lunch program:

UPS alumna Abby Ormsbee Isaacson is the program director for REACH Ministries in Tacoma. Since graduating with a degree in IPE in 2003, Abby has worked in public health and is currently in the process of applying to international public health graduate programs. At REACH, Abby works with HIV positive children and their families.

Although Abby is currently focusing on local public health, she maintains an international outlook in her work. While HIV positive children in poorer countries have needs for clothing, food, and medicine; the HIV-positive children and their families that Abby works with have social needs, such as mentoring. Abby identified AIDS prevention and combating the AIDS stigma as both local and global issues. Through REACH, Abby also worked with children in Mumbai who have AIDS and observed the AIDS stigma at work there. Additionally, while medical advances have prevented many American families from giving birth to HIV positive children, the number of HIV positive children adopted from abroad has grown. One of Abby’s challenges has been to connect families of adopted children and to provide them with support.

Abby spoke to the differences in governmental organizations’ and NGOs’ abilities to provide public health services. NGOs allow for more creativity in programming and have fewer bureaucratic constraints. In going into countries, they are not hindered by association with specific policies or with a certain political identity. However, governmental organizations could reach more people effectively through more streamlined processes.

Abby’s academic interest is infectious disease prevention, and international food policy and nutrition have a role in this issue. In searching for graduate school programs, Abby found that many international public health programs required at least two years of international experience. Abby spoke of the Peace Corps Masters International program as a way to gain this experience while pursuing a graduate degree. Graduate programs in international public health are skill-based programs, offering practical training in areas such as information collecting and interacting with people. These programs also allow students to study the different factors that contribute to a “healthy community.”

Rather than entering graduate school immediately, Abby said that she thought it was a good idea to gain work experience first. Her four years of work in the field have prepared her for graduate school by allowing her to refine her interest. At this point, however, Abby said that she felt she has reached a limit as to what she can learn at her job. Graduate school will allow her to keep developing her interest in AIDS.

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