Global Health students explore diseases and share findings with Ugandan officials.

By Donovan Kavish ’13

Tuberculosis, brucellosis, diabetes, cryptococcal meningitis—these diseases affect millions of people in Africa and beyond. This year, through Macalester’s Global Health Scholars Program, 12 students researched the literature on these diseases and in January took their newly gained knowledge to Uganda. There over the course of two weeks they toured hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, clinics, and laboratories where they met and presented on their research to physicians and scientists.

Biology professors Devavani Chatterjea and Elizabeth Jansen and chemistry professor Rebecca Hoye, with grant support from medical technology company Medtronic, developed the program to help students link classroom learning to field experiences and engage with global experts on biomedical issues in their home countries. Hoye, Chatterjea, and colleague Paul Overvoorde made the trip to Uganda along with the students.

“The doctors and scientists in Uganda are experts in their fields, but they’re busy doing their jobs and don’t necessarily have time to pull together literature from all the other sources, which our students did,” explains Chatterjea, who led the trip.

Before traveling to Uganda, the students took a fall semester course called Projects in Global Health, in which they were divided into four teams that each researched a public health issue. The issues chosen were of mutual interest to the students and their Ugandan partners, which included Makerere University, Mulago Hospital, and the Ugandan Wildlife Authority.

For example, the team that studied brucellosis, a highly infectious disease affecting both humans and livestock, gave the Ugandan Wildlife Authority a comprehensive literature review of worldwide efforts to control and eradicate the disease. “People really listened to us, asking questions and delivering feedback very specific to Uganda, which we would not have had access to otherwise,” says Elena Tonc ’13 (Osijek, Croatia). “That’s something that you gain by working in the field.”

“It was amazing to go from knowing absolutely nothing about a topic to discussing it with people at the forefront of their fields.”
– Linnea Swanson ’13

Meeting with Ugandan professionals provided the students with information unavailable elsewhere, which strengthened their research. The group studying cryptococcal meningitis, for example, learned that a major drug used to treat that disease is impractical in Uganda because it cannot be taken during pregnancy and the average Ugandan woman bears seven children. Says Linnea Swanson ’13 (St. Paul), “It was amazing to go from knowing absolutely nothing about a topic to discussing it with people at the forefront of their fields.”

Thanks to financial support from the college and a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the trip was heavily subsidized, allowing a diverse group of students to travel to Uganda. With HHMI support, the program is expected to continue for another three years.

March 6 2013

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