7 Things I Wish All Americans Knew About Global Health
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When I was 21, I was lucky enough to be on the ground for the launch of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Uganda, and witnessed first-hand the roadblocks so many people face in obtaining appropriate health care and nutrition to lead happy, prosperous lives. It was a harrowing image—seeing hundreds of people lining the street waiting for medicine that had been readily available in the U.S for years.

People’s lives were limited and cut short simply because they were born at the wrong place at the wrong time. Despite major advancements in health and science, many people still can’t access the care they need. In 2008, I was connected with the other co-founders of GHC, recent college grads working at Google and FACE AIDS. We put our heads together and came up with a business plan to mobilize our generation to improve health equity around the world.

This seed of an idea eventually became Global Health Corps, an international non-profit focused on bringing great talent and problem-solvers to the field of global health. We recruit, train, and place outstanding young leaders to serve in yearlong fellowships in Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia , and the United States. Our first partners identified areas of need in their communities and our growth process has been guided by the needs of our partners ever since. We are driven by the conviction that health is a human right, and we can all contribute to the movement for health equity.

By learning these 7 facts about the global health movement, you can become a more engaged citizen of the world and start to make a difference in your community.

1. You don’t have to be a doctor to contribute to global health.

Global Health Corps is based on the idea that great ideas don’t change the world, great people do. And some of the most valuable professionals in the fight for health equity are non-medical. At Global Health Corps, our fellows come from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from architecture, to engineering, to professional athletics. One fellow, for example, applied his experience as a supply chain manager at the Gap to improving Tanzania’s drug supply chain. Whatever your skillset is, you can make a difference in global health.

2. Global health challenges exist right here at home.

Though the term “global health” suggests a foreign location, serious global health challenges exist in the United States. For example, 1 in 20 adults in Washington DC is estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS. So what’s being done about this epidemic? The Grassroot Project (TGP) uses sports and athletes to break the silence around HIV/AIDS and educate DC youth.

Each semester, TGP recruits, trains, and mentors athletes from the DC area to become health educators. These athletes reach students through P.E. classes at 31 DC schools, teaching sports-based HIV prevention and life skills programs for hundreds of local youth. So if you’ve ever thought that you can’t get a start in global health without traveling abroad, know that global health challenges, and their solutions, exist right here at home.

3. Health education is often a more powerful tool than medicine.

On average, 1 in 5 mothers in Newark, New Jersey, delivers prematurely, and that rate is even higher for African American women. So what’s being done? Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait (HBWW) is a community-based initiative focused on reducing preterm birth rates in Newark, NJ.

They collaborate with hospitals, health departments, and community organizations to educate pregnant patients on reducing preterm birth risk and implement preterm birth prevention interventions. Often, it's education, rather than pills or shots, that is most effective at improving health.

4. Many of the best public health innovations in the United States come from developing countries.

We always hear about western nations aiding African nations in the news. However, innovative public health strategies from developing nations are equally needed in the United States. For example, CliniPAKTM, a Clinical Patient Administration Kit developed by Vecna Cares, has been deployed throughout Kenya and Zanzibar. Public health workers in these nations have adopted the CliniPAK technology—a rugged touchscreen device that syncs with cell phones when capturing patient data.

Based on CliniPAK’s success in Kenya and Zanzibar, public health officials in the United States decided to adopt the technology to better coordinate the patient data for transient populations using various free health clinics in Massachusetts.

5. Diseases often come in twos or threes.

1 in 3 American children and teens is overweight or obese. That’s a staggering number. What is even more surprising, however, is that many of these children are also malnourished. Though they consume an excess of calories, that doesn’t necessarily mean they're receiving the nutrients they need to live healthy lives. The added complexity of addressing multiple diseases in the same population at the same time is why now, more than ever, we need passionate and dedicated individuals in the fight for health equity.

6. Some of the biggest changemakers in global health are under 30.

One of the biggest misconceptions about global health is that you have to be a mid-career professional with an M.D. or an M.P.H. to make a difference in global health. This couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, GHC alum Nargis Shirazi was only 28 when she founded the Woman to Woman Foundation, an organization to ensure that rural schoolgirls have access to reusable sanitary pads and panties to enable them to stay in school. Young people will be dealing with the world’s global health challenges for years to come, and they’re equipped to bring real innovation to the table and to effect change.

7. The movement for global health is growing.

Between 2003 and 2009, the number of university based global health programs more than quadrupled from 8 to over 40 such programs. Around the nation, students are clamoring for more course offerings in public and global health, and universities such as Yale, Princeton, and Duke are increasing funding for existing global health initiatives. There has never been a more exciting time to get into the field of global health.So what can we do?You can start making a difference today.

Global Health Corps is now accepting applications for our sixth class of fellows, and we urge enthusiastic young professionals who want to make an impact in global health to apply for our fellowships in Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and the United States.To apply for a 2014-2015 Fellowship, please visit here. All applicants must be 30 years or younger, have earned an undergraduate university degree by July 2014, and be proficient in English.

Applications close on January 26, 2014. For more information, visit us on the web or find us Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

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About the Author

Barbara Bush is CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps. Before joining Global Health Corps’ founding team in 2008, Barbara worked in Educational Programming at the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, where she supported design thinking programs for high school students and faculty in Louisiana, Texas, Minnesota, and New York. Previously, she worked for Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Capetown, South Africa and interned for UNICEF in Botswana. She has traveled with the UN World Food Programme, focusing on the importance of nutrition in ARV treatment. Barbara is a member of UNICEF’s Next Generation Steering Committee and the UN Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council and is one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Shapers. She is on the Board of Directors of Covenant House International, PSI, and Friends of the Global Fight for AIDS, TB, and Malaria. She is a Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation Social Entrepreneur and a fellow of the Echoing Green Foundation, which selected Global Health Corps as one of the 14 most innovative social start-ups worldwide out of 1500 applicants. Barbara Bush graduated from Yale University with a degree in Humanities in 2004.

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