Student Organizations Can Improve Global Health
Many of the health crises in the world today are not only preventable but often man-made. However, disease outbreaks, conflict-created health emergencies and inefficient healthcare systems continue into 2019. Though there are very real threats to global health, there are also organizations working tirelessly to tackle these global health challenges. The efforts of internationally-focused college clubs, like GlobeMed at the University of Denver and Global Medical Training at the University of California, Berkeley, demonstrate that student organizations can improve global health.

GlobeMed at the University of Denver

GlobeMed at the University of Denver started in 2011 and is one of 50 college chapters across the U.S. The broader organization focuses on health disparities across the world by encouraging each chapter to partner with a grassroots health organization to work on local community health projects. GlobeMed at DU partners with Buddhism for Social Development Action (BSDA) in Kampong Cham, Cambodia, an organization started by Buddhist monks with the intention of bettering their community.

Jakob Allen, a Global Health Unit Coordinator for GlobeMed at DU, told The Borgen Project that their co-founders, Victor Roy and Peter Luckow, “realized that the key to sustainable project implementation was to listen and form a relationship with the local community. Too many NGOs today do not assume the population they are working with knows what is best for their community; GlobeMed at DU works to shatter this fallacy by working with our partners to find out what the community believes to be the best solution,” said Allen. “We then work to help make their visions a reality.”

How GlobeMed at DU Helps

Currently, GlobeMed at DU has two active microloan income generation projects, Chicken Raising Project (CRP) and Financing Futures (FF). The money generated by GlobeMed at DU goes towards financing these current projects, which were decided upon by BSDA with input from the community, according to Allen.

The beneficiaries of CRP are families with at least one member living with HIV/AIDS. Allen told The Borgen Project that the goal is to provide each family with a loan to purchase chickens and supplies, “thus enabling sick beneficiaries to cover their own medical transportation costs and receive appropriate treatment.” For the Financing Futures project, the beneficiaries are families with school-aged children. The intention of this project is to provide families with a microloan to start or expand a current business. The reduced cost to run the business encourages families to send the children to school.

Daniel Rinner, a Global Health Unit Coordinator for GlobeMed at DU, told The Borgen Project it is extremely important for GlobeMed at DU that health is not thought of solely in terms of medicine and healthcare institutions. “We also have to consider the social determinants of health: why certain health problems exist in the locations and communities that they do,” said Rinner. “We’ve had chapter meetings on how we can analyze gun violence as a public health issue and how Puerto Rico’s economic and political circumstances coincided with Hurricane Maria to create a public health disaster in our own country, for example,” Rinner added.

The ability to think critically regarding the larger dynamics of globalization and poverty and then utilize this knowledge in local communities is one of the reasons student organizations can improve global health.

Global Medical Training: University of California, Berkeley

Another example of how student organizations can improve global health is Global Medical Training (GMT) at the University of California, Berkeley. GMT is a national organization offering the opportunity to go to Latin American countries and experience “hands-on” clinical work for college students interested in policy or health care careers, according to Angela H. Kwon, President of U.C. Berkeley’s GMT chapter.

Andrew Paul Rosenzweig, Vice President of U.C. Berkeley’s GMT chapter, told The Borgen Project their goal is to reach communities with little access to healthcare. “Many Latin American countries’ health care is focused in populated cities, so we provide more rural communities with these resources,” said Rosenzweig.

In addition to providing healthcare resources to rural Latin American countries, GMT at U.C. Berkeley focuses on implementing public health and sustainability projects. “We recognize the limitations of being in a host country for only a week at a time…[so] the goal of these [public health] projects is prevention rather than treatment,” said Rosenzweig. “Educating individuals on how to live healthier lives can have tremendous impacts on not only their own life but the lives of their family and community.” GMT has worked with rural Latin American communities to teach the significance of healthy eating, reproductive health, dental hygiene and hypertension.

GMT: A Piece of a Larger Movement

When asked whether the “hands-on” approach of GMT at U.C. Berkeley has been successful in creating change in Latin American countries, Kwon told The Borgen Project that this “would be an overstatement. It’s only a very tiny step and the beginning [of] a bigger movement, which is sustainability and health equity.” Though Kwon stated that week-long trips to rural areas do not create immediate or lasting effects, she claimed “it’s a start and any contribution can help. It’s like a ripple effect.”

Kwon added, “Of course, as college students, our knowledge of medicine is limited but…we’re educating future practitioners or professionals about global health and sustainability. Although cliché, we’re making a difference in the patient’s day by providing them with answers, medication and showing them that we care.”

GlobeMed at DU and GMT at U.C. Berkeley’s efforts, with their dedication to education and prevention, understanding of the larger dynamics of poverty, and care for international communities, are a perfect example on how student organizations can improve global health.

– Kara Roberts
Photo: Flickr