Alumnus Blake Smith reflects on Peace Corps experience in Swaziland

photo of Blake Smith in Swaziland

 

Blake Smith is a graduate from the University of Iowa College of Public Health (16MPH) and is currently serving with the Peace Corps in Swaziland.

During his time in Swaziland, Blake has gotten involved in many different projects as a Peace Corps volunteer. From HIV prevention and support programs at a rural clinic, to assisting with the creation of the local school’s first library, Blake has had many opportunities to gain hands-on experience working with community members on various projects.

Through his work at the clinic, Blake has also been working to educate high school girls on how to make affordable and reusable sanitary pads to prevent them from missing school as a result of getting their periods. Outside of the clinic Blake has been involved in developing income generating projects and teaching financial literacy and general business skills to caregivers of orphans and vulnerable children.

While Blake says one of the greatest challenges he faces during his service thus far is the social isolation that can come with being a Peace Corps volunteer, he also mentions that once deep and close relationships are formed with local people, you begin to feel like you really are an important part of their lives and community; “it’s an amazing feeling.” Blake shares this type of relationship with members of his host family, which has transformed his experience in Swaziland and influenced how he will look back on these two years with the Peace Corps.

Written by Samantha Kloft, a campus ambassador for the Peace Corps at the University of Iowa and a second-year College of Public Health graduate student in community and behavioral health. Blake’s profile is one of the monthly Peace Corps Spotlights that shed light on the experiences of UI alumni as they serve in locations all over the world. 

MHIRT offers research opportunities in Romania, Armenia

The Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research and Training (MHIRT) program is seeking underrepresented (minority, low income, rural) students enrolled in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical and social sciences for summer research training internships in Romania or Armenia during the summer of 2018.

Eligible applicants must be US citizens or permanent residents; have a minimum GPA of 3.0; be a Junior, Senior, Graduate student or medical, dental, pharmacy or other professional program student; have completed two years of health sciences courses; and be from an underrepresented student group (minority, low income or rural).

Most expenses are paid and include round trip airfare, visa fees, international health insurance, monthly stipend, housing and tuition and fees for academic credit of internship.

Information sessions will be held:

Friday, October 27           10:00 am – 11:30 am     N160 CPHB

Thursday, November 9   11:30 am – 1:00 pm     N160 CPHB

Application and more information available at https://www.public-health.uiowa.edu/mhirt/

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Marek Mikulski at 384-4296 or marek-mikulski@uiowa.edu for further information or assistance.

MPH student Katie Grabowski helps prevent disease in Nicaragua

Students at the UI College of Public Health have many wonderful opportunities to learn and explore outside of the classroom, both in Iowa and around the world. Last summer, MPH student Katie Grabowski traveled to rural Nicaragua to help local health workers prevent preventable diseases among the citizens. Watch her story here.

Slideshow: Petersen travels to India to research visceral leishmaniasis

In July 2017, Christy Petersen, CPH associate professor of epidemiology, traveled to Bihar, India, to conduct research on visceral leishmaniasis. She recently shared photos and details of her trip.

I traveled to India as a part of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) Tropical Medicine Research Center faculty. The center is an NIH Specialized Center (P50) that is entering its 15th year of funding located at the Kala-Azar Medical Research Centre (KAMRC).

I worked in and around a city called Muzaffarpur in the state of Bihar, which had the honor of being the last area of the world to eradicate smallpox. Bihar is in the northeastern corner of India, next to Nepal and Bangladesh, and home to the headwaters of the Ganges River. Bihar is still one of the poorest regions of India. The power is inconsistent throughout most of the day, the water isn’t potable, and raw sewage flows down the sides of the street.  As it was monsoon season while I was there, there was active malaria, Dengue, Zika, Japanese encephalitis, and other things circulating in the mosquitos, so I was sure to wear my bug spray each day.

Bihar is also endemic for visceral leishmaniasis (VL), the fatal protozoal parasite infection that is the research focus of my lab. The Muzaffarpur area had 44 new VL cases during June 2017, the month before I arrived. One of the villages I visited had 38 of 300 villagers recently seropositive for leishmaniasis; all were children under 18.

We drew crowds when we were out in the villages looking for “bimar kutta,” or sick dogs, to establish whether animals are part of the disease ecology (reservoirs). To date, this disease is believed to only circulate between humans and the vector sand flies, but in the rest of the world infection is also found in other mammals, particularly dogs and rodents as reservoirs.

I was working in the field with a team of 10 people total, myself included. This was a field team of four trained dog-catchers and three entomologists, one of whom was from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (the only other American present during my three weeks). Rounding out the 10 people was our driver, the PhD student from BHU whose dissertation will focus on this work, and a molecular parasitlogist who will aid us with the molecular studies stemming from these samples. She was the only other woman at KAMRC while I was there. As you might guess, as the only white woman around for miles, I was quite unusual and was the focus of many stares everywhere I went. That was probably one of the hardest things for me to adjust to as an understated Midwesterner.

Bihar was an amazing, troubling, fascinating place.

Study looks at role of social connections, socioeconomic inequalities in child nutrition in rural India

A girl in India eating watermelon.

Researchers are increasingly studying how people’s social connections affect poverty and health inequalities. However, little is known about how a family’s social relationships – who they know and what organizations they belong to – contribute to children’s health in low- and middle-income countries such as India, especially when it comes to addressing inequalities in child nutrition.

A recent study led by William Story, University of Iowa assistant professor of community and behavioral health, examined how different forms of social capital may mitigate as well as sustain or reproduce socioeconomic disparities in child underweight. The researchers define social capital as “household members’ actual or potential resources inherent within personal and organization-based networks that can be used for pursuing individual or collective goals.”

For example, a household may belong to community associations, clubs, or religious groups or have ties to influential individuals such as medical professionals, teachers, or government officials. In the context of child nutrition, these social connections may provide immediate access to necessities such as food, informational resources (e.g., parenting advice), and medical services to overcome socioeconomic constraints.

William Story

Story, along with his colleague Richard Carpiano, a sociology professor from the University of British Columbia, analyzed data on 9,008 rural-dwelling children from the 2005 India Human Development Survey. They examined how socioeconomic status shapes household access to and child health benefits from three different forms of social capital located inside and outside the community.

“We found that higher household wealth is associated with greater access to social capital,” says Story. “Additionally, we found that social capital can benefit poorer households in the absence of other resources. However, wealthier households can use social capital to further improve child health and, in some cases, reproduce child health inequalities.”

The study, published in the May 2017 issue of Social Science & Medicine, can be used to guide future research on social capital and disparities in child nutrition and health, and to inform the design of effective interventions in low- and middle-income countries.