September 3, 2018

Students Study Health Policy, Gain Hands-On Experience in Tanzania

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Any person, any study, anywhere! This past summer, 16 students were selected to spend eight weeks in a cross cultural exchange after undergoing an application and interview process through the College of Human Ecology’s Nutritional Science Department.

The Global Health Program in the Division of Nutritional Sciences provides students across colleges with opportunities to engage, explore, and learn in Tanzania, Zambia, the Dominican Republic and India.

For the first four weeks of the program in Moshi, Tanzania — which is near Mount Kilimanjaro — the students lived with local families and enrolled in a course at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical University College. The second four weeks had students working 40 hours per week at a local non-governmental organization or hospital and engaging in service projects that related to their individual interests in global health.

The initial four-week course at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical University College was structured around not only teaching important global health issues that exist in Tanzania, but also providing students with a hands-on opportunity to work with local medical students on policies that influence many of those health issues. Students worked collaboratively with two medical students on a health policy to improve the local community by collecting data in addition to conducting stakeholder interviews. The final part of the project focused on sustainability issues pertaining to the policy — a key pillar of many of Cornell’s global health programs.

“My group researched healthcare professionalism in Moshi,” said Kalin Ellison ’19. “Specifically, we researched the ways in which doctors interact with their patients, and the quality of care being provided at health facilities in Moshi. After talking to stakeholders and conducting literature reviews, we discovered that gaps in policy exist surrounding patient feedback systems and medical school curricula resulting in doctors not receiving proper training in soft skills and bedside manner.”

Ellison also said that completing the case improved her skills in scientific writing, while also giving her detailed policy knowledge of a different health system.

During the last four weeks of the program, students worked on a sustainable service project with a local hospital, non-governmental agency or governmental agency according to their personal global health interest. Leading and learning through community engagement at this leg of the program, students were provided with firsthand experience surrounding pivotal global health issues. The projects ranged from shadowing doctors in rural hospitals to working with the Network Against Female Genital Mutilation, an organization that aims to stop child marriage and female genital mutilation in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania.

Ellison, who worked at NAFGEM for her service placement, explained that the organization used a variety of approaches to combat these issues, including providing education, economic empowerment of women and refuge for at-risk girls.

“I specifically worked at a shelter for at-risk girls in Moshi. For four weeks, I helped develop educational materials to spread awareness about the dangers of female genital mutilation and helped teach music and English to the girls living at the shelter,” Ellison said.

Meanwhile, other students, including Anum Hussain ’19, Katie Sattherwaite ’19 and Erin Kim ’20, shadowed doctors at Machame hospital, a low-resource hospital near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro.
“It was an awesome experience — very different from any U.S. hospitals,” Hussain said. “We shadowed in every department including OB/GYN and orthopedics.”

While in Moshi, the students lived in a homestay with local Tanzanian families. Students learned about daily Tanzanian life while forming relationships in the Moshi community.

“Living in my homestay was by far the best part of my experience,” Ellison said. “The homestay was the environment in which I learned the most about the culture and language while in Tanzania. I got to experience traditional Tanzanian food, learn Swahili slang and completely immerse myself in a different way of life.”

Cassie York ’20 discussed the atmosphere and strong bond with her homestay family.

“It was amazing, I loved my homestay mama, and there were six to eight children in our house at any given time,” York said. “It was so sad saying goodbye to them at the end of the program.”

In preparation for the eight-week stay in Tanzania, students had to complete several required courses and training. These requirements included a Pre-Departure Seminar and Elementary Swahili.