Post date: Monday, February 29, 2016 - 1:46pm

By Dr. Noelle Sullivan, Assistant Professor of Instruction, Global Health Studies and Anthropology, Northwestern University

On Feb. 16, 18-year old Malachi Love-Robinson was arrested for posing as a doctor in West Palm Beach. Practicing medicine without a license is a third-degree felony in Florida. Yet, were Love-Robinson to fly to Tanzania, Cambodia, Bolivia, Honduras, Senegal, Nepal or any other so-called "developing country," not only would he be able to practice medicine without a license; his actions would be celebrated.

An expanding and highly lucrative industry has sprung up around international "voluntourism." Placements in health facilities are popular. It is mostly health professions students, or aspiring professionals like Love-Robinson who pay companies to do these trips. Websites say anyone can offer "first-rate health care to people who usually don't have the regular opportunity to see a doctor." As a foreigner and a volunteer, regardless of training, you provide "more than hope" by virtue of who you are.

Poor countries are depicted as having few locals with good ideas and a commitment to assist with the pressing problems there. In such places, "any help is better than no help at all." Nothing could be further from the truth. Worldwide, foreigners crowd health facilities and orphanages, despite concerned reports and campaigns about problematic ethics of both types of volunteering and the harms that volunteers could unwittingly cause. Read more.

Source: Orlando Sentinel.

Post date: Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 12:49pm

November 4, 2015. Northwestern Medicine mentors will help junior faculty at three universities in Nigeria develop research skills during a five-year program funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The program is part of the NIH’s Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which recently awarded more than $36 million to 11 institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. The region bears nearly a quarter of the globe’s disease burden, but has just 3 percent of its health workforce and 1 percent of its research output, according to the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

Over the previous five years, faculty from Northwestern University and the Harvard School of Public Health partnered with universities in Nigeria to modernize their medical school curricula. In the next phase of the program, the teams will focus on expanding the research capacity at the University of Ibadan, University of Jos and the University of Lagos. Read more

Post date: Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - 3:03pm

Oct 13, 2015. Leading economist and United Nations adviser Jeffrey D. Sachs will give a keynote address at Northwestern University’s symposium “Global Health Then and Now: Equality, Development and Globalization.”

The Global Health Interdisciplinary Symposium will be held Nov. 19 and 20 at the School of Law, Arthur J. Rubloff Building, 375 East Chicago Ave., Chicago campus.

Scholars, policy experts, non-governmental organizations and health professionals will come together in moderated interdisciplinary panel discussions on a number of topics related to global health. They include global health funding, the role of innovation and social entrepreneurship in global health and the impact of epidemics on human capital.

Sachs, the Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development and Health Policy and Management and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, as well as Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals, will deliver the keynote address at noon, Thursday, Nov. 19, in Thorne Auditorium at the Law School. Read more

Post date: Thursday, October 8, 2015 - 10:40am

October 7, 2015. Odette Zero was volunteering in a small Guatemalan town flanked by volcanoes four summers ago when she started to notice a common narrative.

“Diabetes -- it’s endemic,” said the Northwestern University junior. “Many people don’t understand the basics of the disease.”

San Miguel Dueñas, located in south-central Guatemala and unknown to most, is like a second home to Zero, who has returned year after year with her mother, a native of the country.

An anthropology major in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences with a minor in global health, Zero saw an opportunity to help separate fact from fiction on the causes, prevention and treatment of the disease. She spent part of this past summer exploring cultural perceptions of type 2 diabetes through personal stories, or “illness narratives” after receiving an undergraduate research grant. Read more

Post date: Wednesday, September 30, 2015 - 11:10am

Forming positive racial identity can protect youth from greater inflammation associated with discrimination

Sept 29, 2015. How does racial discrimination affect long-term health? In a recent study, IPR health psychologists Edith Chen and Greg Miller and their colleagues consider this question, by examining how discrimination faced by African American teens has an impact on their levels of inflammation—which can often forecast chronic health conditions later in life.

The research team surveyed the teens (aged 17–19) about their experiences with racial discrimination and the formation of their racial identity, asking if being African American was important to them, and whether they embraced positive views and rejected negative stereotypes about African Americans. Later, when the teens surveyed were 22 years old, the researchers took blood samples to measure levels of multiple cytokines—proteins that are involved in generating and maintaining inflammation. The researchers found that teens who faced frequent racial discrimination had higher levels of inflammation by the time they were 22. However, teens with a positive view of their racial identity did not experience the same heightened levels of inflammation, even when faced with frequent discrimination—suggesting that instilling a positive racial identity can keep stress from “getting under the skin.” 

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Greg Miller and Edith Chen are professors of psychology and IPR fellows. They also co-direct the Foundations of Health Research Center. For more information, read “Discrimination, Racial Identity, and Cytokine Levels Among African-American Adolescents," in the Journal of Adolescent Health 56(5): 496-501.

Post date: Friday, August 7, 2015 - 2:56pm

August 7, 2015. Northwestern University scientists have received a five-year, $17.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for an interdisciplinary project that aims to invent, develop and test an implantable drug delivery system to protect high-risk individuals from HIV infection for up to a year at a time. The grant will bring together researchers from Feinberg, McCormick and Kellogg.

Post date: Friday, June 19, 2015 - 10:27am

June 19, 2015. When the Human Genome Project got underway in 1990, experts believed that people carried an estimated 100,000 or more genes. Since then, the overall count has been revised downward to fewer than 25,000 genes, or about 7,000 fewer than a fleshy tomato. Does this mean that a human being is less complex than a salad ingredient?

No, says IPR anthropologist Thomas McDade, who directs Cells to Society (C2S): The Center for Social Disparities and Health at the Institute for Policy Research. Still, the comparison indicates the subtle complexity of gene-environment interplay.

In McDade’s view, one of the most significant achievements of human genome sequencing, completed in 2003, was pinning down the number of human genes. Gene mapping, however, only points to an organism’s inherited information; it cannot shed light on how genes “enter into conversation” with their environment to shape gene expression. In other words, genes are part of the conversation but don’t dictate the entire discussion with respect to human outcomes.

“We spent more than $3 billion to unlock the human genome and discover its secrets,” says McDade, “yet we still haven’t seen the initially promised breakthroughs in cures for diseases.” Read more

Post date: Wednesday, June 3, 2015 - 2:55pm

June 1, 2015. Northwestern University School of Law will expand its global Access to Health Project with a $1 million donation from university alumnus Chris Combe and his wife Courtney.

Chris Combe is chairman of health-products manufacturer Combe Inc. and serves on the university’s board of trustees. The couple has made financial gifts to the university every year since 1994.

“This generous gift is another wonderful illustration of their commitment to international justice, as well as their extraordinary commitment to Northwestern University,” law dean Daniel Rodriguez said. “The Access to Health Program is an impactful program, and this gift will expand its reach.”

This year, the Combes’ generosity will benefit the law school through the creation of two fellowships tied to the health project. That project is a partnership with the university’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and seeks to evaluate public health needs in developing countries and to develop sustainable solutions. This year, the program tackled several projects in Mali, where law, management and medical students sought to boost knowledge about medical procedures; diseases including malaria and AIDS and treatment options; breastfeeding; and sanitation. Read more

Post date: Thursday, May 21, 2015 - 12:40pm

May 21, 2015. A group of Northwestern University undergraduates arrived in a West African village almost 10 years ago expecting to find a thriving health clinic -- but instead the facility built earlier as a student project was shuttered.

Unbeknownst to the students when they undertook the project, the villagers already had access to a existing health clinic.

That fundamental mistake in planning spurred the creation of GlobeMed, at the time a small Northwestern-born organization that has mushroomed over the last decade to comprise more than 50 chapters on campuses across the country.

Created in 2006, GlobeMed was founded on the premise that local people need to lead the way in order for aid projects to succeed. Nine years later, over a weekend in late March, the 2015 GlobeMed Summit brought together more than 250 students and alumni delegates from 45 universities and 23 speakers.

The evolution of GlobeMed, conceived soon after what would become the organization’s first annual summit in Evanston, is striking. Read more

Post date: Friday, May 15, 2015 - 2:08pm

May 15, 2015. How do social and cultural experiences become embedded in physical and mental health? This is one of the central questions driving IPR anthropologist Rebecca Seligman’s research—and one that has intrigued her since she was a teen attending her first large rally in Washington, D.C. 

“It had this unbelievable emotional impact on me,” she recalled. “And it made me wonder—why did it feel so good to participate in this collective ritual?” 

Seligman went on to study the impact of such rituals by delving into the field of anthropology, eventually obtaining her PhD from Emory University. Her wide-ranging research agenda encompasses examinations of spirit possession in Brazil to investigations of mental health among Mexican-American teenagers, but all of it is united by an interest in mind-body interactions and sociocultural influences.

“My research looks at how psychological practices affect bodily processes, and vice versa—and how cultural and social factors get internalized, both in the mind and in the body, and influence those mental and bodily process in really deep ways,” Seligman said. Read more

IPR Faculty Spotlight