In spring 2018, HUGHF hosted visiting speakers for engaging dinner discussions about global mental health.
Sheena Wood spoke to HUGHF about her field experience at a mental health clinic in India and stressed the importance of increasing service delivery in regions of severe need. She will contribute to this service herself as she trains to become a nurse. Sheena also described her research with Dr. Vikram Patel, an HMS professor who focuses on narrowing the treatment gap for mental illnesses in developing countries. Sheena supported Dr. Patel in organizing the Inaugural Global Mental Health Open Day in April that showcased the research about and resources for global mental health at Harvard.
HUGHF also organized a fascinating dinner panel with Harvard alumni working in mental health. Dr. Mark Albanese shared his experience from his work in addiction psychiatry at the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) and stressed the importance of fostering culturally supportive treatment for diverse populations, including Boston’s Haitian and Latino populations. Maureen Rezendes, who is the Associate Chief of Counseling and Mental Health Services at HUHS, noted that she has witnessed exciting progress since she was an undergrad in the understanding of how the brain works at a neurological, cellular level. Sreeja Kalapurakkel described that her passion for mental health – which grew out of her involvement with SMHL and ECHO as an undergrad – has inspired her work since as a research associate at the Broad Institute. All alumni expressed their gratification that awareness about mental health on Harvard’s campus has increased rapidly in recent years.
HUGHF dedicated the first half of the spring 2018 semester to studying global mental health. Our members came away from weekly meetings, dinner discussions, and letter-writing advocacy with an invigorated commitment to promoting mental health at home and abroad.
Presentations from HUGHF members guided our weekly discussions:
HUGHF focused on malaria for the second half of the spring 2018 semester. By concentrating on a specific disease, we were able to consider malaria from multiple lenses: we learned about the scientific basis for malaria, the cutting edge research working towards its eradication, and the opportunities available at Harvard to learn more.
We were excited to welcome Jaime Mchunu, the Program Manager of Harvard’s Defeating Malaria Initiative, to our first meeting on malaria. Jaime provided HUGHF with the building blocks necessary to study the disease further. She informed us of the progress that has been made towards its eradication: an 18% lower incidence between 2010 and 2016, 500 million mosquito nets distributed between 2014 and 2016, the eradication of malaria in of Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka in 2016, and more. She also filled us in on the challenges that remain: mosquitos are becoming resistant to specific insecticides and drugs and the rate of eradication has slowed. With these challenges in mind, Jaime told us how we could get involved: by participating in the Defeating Malaria Initiative’s online course, MalariaX, and by raising awareness about malaria on our campus.
Co-Activism Director Anthony Zhong ’21 gave a multiple-choice-style presentation that tested HUGHF’s knowledge of the core facts of malaria. Did we know that malaria is caused by a parasite, as opposed to a virus? Could we have guessed that a staggering 1,200 people die per day from malaria? Anthony described some of the biggest challenges facing malaria eradication efforts, including mosquito resistance to insecticides, fraudulent malaria drugs sold for profit, and climate change.
HUGHF dove further into the challenges presented by Anthony the following week. We read and discussed an article on a study in Tanzania, where a new insecticide, used on mosquito nets, was found to decrease incidence of malaria by 44% over the course of one year in the study population. The study highlighted the importance of continuing to create new insecticides due to increased mosquito resistance to old ones. A second article sparked a debate on whether malaria can be eradicated at all: some members sided with the article, arguing that it is impossible to eradicate malaria when the infrastructure for treatment delivery isn’t in place in many countries. Funding should target healthcare delivery rather than eradication, which has not yet been successful. Other members argued that efforts should continue to be directed towards eradication, as countries like Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka have seen success as recently as 2016.
HUGHF worked with the Defeating Malaria Initiative to organize Harvard’s second game of Malaria Assassins, with the goal of raising awareness about malaria on the Harvard campus while also building house spirit.
9 upperclassmen houses and all four freshman yards participated, each with their own game. In Malaria Assassins, each player was assigned a target within their house or yard whom they had to “tag” out using a poke. Once a player tagged out their target, they logged onto the game’s online platform, malaria.buzz, to answer a question or perform a social media task about malaria before receiving their next target. In addition, each time a player refreshed the screen, a new fact about malaria appeared. The player left un-tagged at the end of the two-week game was the winner!
270 Harvard undergraduates signed up to play the game, which took place from April 13 - April 25. Across our 2018 Malaria Assassins game, players answered a total of 102 questions and saw 2546 facts about malaria.
World Malaria Day:
Malaria Assassins culminated with a panel on April 25th, World Malaria Day, where four speakers shared the work that they have done to defeat malaria.
Our first panelists were Alastair Fung, MD and Arzhang Cyrus Javan, MD, both MPH candidates in Global Health at Harvard’s T.H. School of Public Health. Alastair and Cyrus spoke about their experience working with the Zambian Ministry of Health to develop Zambia’s National Malaria Elimination Center. Zambia is committed to a 2021 eradication of malaria. Alastair and Cyrus’ work in Zambia set the foundation -- through research on Zambia’s health system, conversations with government officials, and identification of challenges -- to reach this goal.
Andrea Smidler, a PhD candidate in Genetics and Molecular Entomology in Public Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health provided a different perspective on malaria, explaining her work on gene drives. Andie explained she creates gene drives using CRISPR to modify mosquito DNA, and this modified DNA is passed on very effectively to all offspring. We are looking forward to following how Andie’s research develops!
Kritika Singh, an undergraduate student at Northeastern University and the Founder and CEO of Malaria Free World, provided a fourth unique perspective on malaria. Kritika’s passion and determination to defeat malaria at such a young age was inspiring to undergraduates in the audience. Kritika explained her work educating children about malaria in countries including the US and India. Malaria Free World works to raise awareness about malaria in support of ongoing research and future research -- Malaria Free World hopes to educate and encourage kids who may eventually research malaria themselves!
As part of our study of the opioid epidemic, HUGHF viewed the 2013 documentary The Hungry Heart. The Bess O'Brien film explores the impact of the opioid epidemic on the small town of St. Albans, Vt., and tells the story of one physician's efforts to give addiction treatment to patients in need. Here are some reactions from members of our group:
"The film transformed the opioid epidemic form an issue that seemed distant and hard to fully understand to one that felt close to home -- addiction to opioids is a disease that can affect anyone. I was extremely encouraged by how many people really want to fight their addiction and seek help, but shocked to learn that many cannot find an available doctor or center to go to." - Caroline Diggins '20
"I found the documentary to be both eye-opening and heartbreaking. Though addiction is often stigmatized, the film made it clear that addiction is a disease, not a flaw or weakness in character, and that addicts should be treated with respect as any other patient. It was also surprising to see the emotional toll that the patients had on their doctor (that's a side of medicine that we don't often see) and touching to see that so many of them looked up to him as a father figure." - Anthony Zhong '21
"The documentary opened my eyes to the suffering that addiction causes addicts and their families. It is heartbreaking. I am inspired by the work of physicians like Dr. Holmes who are doing everything they can to treat their patients for this devastating disease." - Natalie Swartz '20
The Boston Globe published a letter-to-the-editor written by HUGHF members Hannah Smati '18 and Anthony Zhong '21 that urges President Trump to back up his public health emergency declaration for the opioid epidemic with federal action. Read the letter here.
HUGHF is beginning the fall semester by studying the U.S. opioid crisis. We opened our conversation on the topic with a "crash course" on the epidemic at our last meeting. We discussed the startling number of lives ended too soon due to drug overdoses, which now kill more Americans yearly than car accidents and gun homicides combined. Yet even the mounting tally of drug deaths - of which there were over 50,000 in 2015 - does not capture the extent of the opioid epidemic's devastation. In 2015, 2 million Americans reported an addiction to prescription opioids while 12 million reported abusing them within the past year. The epidemic has left children without parents, treatment centers without enough beds to care for those in need, and law enforcement without the resources they need to protect and help their communities.
Over the course of the semester, we will further study how the prescription drug epidemic developed over the past 20 years, how government and health care providers should respond to the crisis, and how pain-management and drug-addiction treatment approaches vary around the world.
As the Trump administration reviews business proposals for building the president's promised border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, the Harvard Undergraduate Global Health Forum would like to call attention to the serious harm that the administration's insistence on closing U.S. borders and withdrawing American foreign aid will cause to global health.
The U.S. is the country best positioned to help coordinate responses to global epidemics. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 and 2015 demonstrated that U.S. aid and coordination can save hundreds of thousands of lives. In September 2014, at which point 3,700 Ebola cases had been confirmed in the region, the Centers for Disease Control predicted that the number of cases would rise to 1.4 million by January 20, 2015, if the existing trends in transmission continued without additional intervention. Spearheaded by the CDC, a bolstered U.S. response that contributed training, equipment, labs, and personnel decelerated the spread of the virus. The coordinated international response limited the spread of the disease to roughly 22,000 cases by January 14, 2015.
President Trump joined the ill-informed chorus of public figures at the time calling for an air travel ban to and from Ebola-affected countries. This demand was one of the most misleading public health claims during the epidemic. A travel ban would have created an air traffic bottleneck, preventing much-needed equipment and personnel from reaching West Africa and slowing Ebola's spread.
Trump's political agenda to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, to ban travel from six Muslim countries, and to shrink the size of the State Department is indicative of a dangerous mindset that prioritizes isolation over the leadership and cooperation needed to coordinate a response to global health crises.
Did you know April is Autism Awareness month? And that Tuesday, April 2nd, was World Autism Awareness day? Organisations all over the world held various fundraisers and events to help spread the word and raise money to help fund research and support groups. “Light it up blue” is the signature campaign of Autism speaks, an organisation dedicated to finding solutions for individuals on the spectrum and their families through advocacy and support and individuals dressed head to toe in blue to do their part to raise awareness. And while the fundraising events are often high energy and fun, it is important to remember the reason for holding them, and the sobering reality of living with autism.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is thought to affect as many as 1 in 68 children in the US. As suggested by the name, it refers to a range of conditions generally characterised by poor social skills, repetitive behaviours and speech and behavioural impairments, which are often accompanied by other medical challenges. It is most often first seen in young children who initially develop slower than average in their ability to. Their inability to interpret or show emotions conventionally often leaves them to be misunderstood but more and more research is helping us to understand how they see the world and how we can help them best.
On the high functioning end of the spectrum, individuals can manage alone or with minimal help on a day-to-day basis, although understanding social norms and interactions can be a far more daunting challenge for them. Low functioning individuals however will need constant care and monitoring. This care will usually come from their parents, which can be a big time and financial burden, especially if they are unable to find supportive schools and services. Therapy and specialised education is essential, however 50,000 teens with autism will lose their school based autism services each year as they grow to be adults. It is a lot harder to find accommodating services as adults.
Understanding of the causes and development of ASD is limited. Some individuals grow out of the disorder and significantly improve while others don’t and it is unclear why. The chances seem to be higher for those who are diagnosed early and so it is so important for people to be able to recognise the signs. In order to improve the prognosis and development of the disorder, it is imperative to further our understanding of the genetic/environmental basis through research.
And for this reason, we need to make sure we continue to fundraise and hold events to raise awareness. Every little bit counts! So tell your friends and family about autism awareness month, hold a bake sale, or even donate through the autism speaks website. Do your bit and make a difference.
For more information on ASD and how you can get involved, visit the autism speaks website at https://www.autismspeaks.org
Harvard's Undergraduate Global Health Forum (HUGHF) will host the "Global Health Challenge: Consequences of Climate Change" case study competition for high school students this Saturday. Working in groups, students will analyze a Boston-specific impact of climate change on public health and will propose a solution to a panel of judges.
HUGHF conference co-direct Do Hyun Kim '19 said he looks forward to working with high school students to address pressing challenges at the intersection between global health and climate change that affect life in Boston.
"By offering these kinds of opportunities, we're able to expose [high school students] to serious concerns our world is facing and help them understand that only with their passion and with their cooperation will our world be able to change," Kim said.
Participating students will work with collegiate HUGHF members and graduate students at Harvard's Chan School of Public Health to develop their proposals.
"We want to foster an environment where people can communicate freely between high school students, college students, and graduate students and to help prepare these high school students to make a difference in their communities," Kim said.
Students will also hear from keynote speaker and head judge Dr. Ramon Guinto, whose public advocacy work focuses on the role public health experts can play in improving planetary health.
The event will take place Sat. April 15 in Harvard Hall 201 from 9am-5:30pm. Students are encouraged to register here in advance but are also permitted to join the morning of the event. Visit our website for more information. Please email co-conference directors Do Hyun Kim '19 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Cameron Comrie '19 (email@example.com) with any questions.