A Meeting with Melinda Gates

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Last week, I had a unique opportunity to meet one of the most influential people in the world– Melinda Gates. Invited through a joint event by the UCLA Burkle International Center and the UCLA Center for World Health, Melinda delivered the annual UCLA Harbenger Distinguished Lecture on Economic Development where she spoke about the work of her foundation, and her outlook on global development in general.

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Speaking about my project on global health accountability

Prior to the lecture, a small group of undergraduate and graduate students with significant global health and development experience were selected to meet with her in a more intimate setting. The most striking thing about Melinda is how starkly genuine she is, both as a person and as a philanthropist. She broke the tension in the room with sarcasm, and answered our questions without hesitation– no script, just honesty. She admitted to areas where the Gates Foundation could do better (she did this on a larger scale in this article in Science), and shared her thoughts on the most pressing issues in society.

I do wish we asked her questions about her own life– successes, failures, lessons learned. It’s not often that you meet someone with such an eclectic life experience, and it was a great moment for me to once again rethink my own career objectives. I’ll be following up with the Gates Foundation regarding a project of mine on global health accountability which I have yet to formally launch– more to come on this soon.

The Global Health Write: Presentation at UFS 2014

Earlier this year I wrote about a new project I’m spearheading to help physicians and public health researchers in low-income regions improve their chances for academic publications in English, peer-reviewed journals. Below you can find part of my presentation from the 2014 Unite for Sight Global Health and Innovation Summit where I first unveiled the idea. We had an exceptional reception from the audience with excellent suggestions and many professors and students interested in taking part.

Please contact me directly if you are interested in working on this with us!

An Instagram for Global Health: Calling for the Best Shots Out There

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Part of Project TTE (Copyright: Abraar Karan)

Having recently joined Instagram a few weeks ago, the first users and hashtags I looked for were those related to global health. I was surprised by the dearth of what I found– there are barely over 3000 photos tagged with the hashtag #globalhealth. Compare this to #medicine (nearly 900k), #healing (slightly over 600k), #health (over 10.5 million), #poverty (93k)– you get the picture (no pun intended). When looking through the users, the only recognizable name I saw was that of the World Bank, which posts great photos with telling captions. For those who are on Instagram, you are surely familiar with the numerous accounts that post the best pictures from around the web of different topics such as vacations, cars, people, nature, animals and the list goes on. I’ve taken the liberty (and opportunity) of starting one for global health.

The account is @SM_GlobalHealth and will be hosted and maintained by SM. We will be reposting the best photos of community organizations and individuals in action from around the world who are engaged in global health and medical work. We are hoping to see pictures that tell stories– this is a call for all to share the experiences, successes, challenges, hardships, and hopes of those overcoming disease and poverty. The intention of this account is to make known to the public what is happening in global health through pictures. Only appropriate photos with thoughtful captions will be reposted, with proper attribution given to the owners of the photograph.

There has been a fantastic influx of photographers in global health– I wrote previously about James Nachtwey and his photographs of people suffering from XDR-TB, and Project Through Their Eyes, a photojournalism project I authored sharing the stories of Indian villagers undergoing free cataract operations through an NGO’s outreach efforts. I have also been an avid photographer for the past several years, and I have many photos of work from Africa, Latin America, and India at my own photoblog, The Photographaar. The new instagram account is an effort to share the photographs of all of you out there who have a passion for global health, story-telling, and have some eye-catching photographs to tie it all together.

Again, the new account is: @SM_GlobalHealth

The Global Health Write: Expanding Publication Opportunities for Low-Income Countries

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I recently returned from the Unite for Sight Global Health and Innovation Conference where I was selected to present my recent research in Mozambique and other projects in the works. One of my talks was regarding a non-profit which I’m currently designing called “The Global Health Write.” In short, 97.5% of research publications come from 31 countries worldwide, only 1 of which is located in a “low-income region” (that single country is South Africa, which is really a developmental  anomaly relative to its neighbors). We can all agree that as part of  global health equity, horizontal partnerships, and the goal of building local capacity, it is important that countries in the Global South and their accompanying biomedical institutions establish stronger research programs and increase their overall research output. There are of course many limitations to this which cannot be ignored– the lack of basic medical infrastructure, the absence of functional institutional review boards to protect human subjects, the limitation of an underdeveloped research ethic, and more– but there are still hundreds of researchers who, after overcoming these obstacles, have trouble publishing due to the basic issue of language. Most medical/public health academic publications are primarily written in English. Having served as a content editor for an African journal, and currently serving as the editor of an upcoming volume on global health with contributions primarily from authors in developing regions where English is not the main language, I can attest to the notion that the ideas and findings are out there, but are simply not being communicated as well as they could and should be. Continue reading

Typhoon Haiyan Fundraiser- Support Our Efforts

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I’m working with classmates at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, the Fielding School of Public Health, and the School of Nursing on an ongoing fundraiser to continue raising money for the Philippines to support the several capacity rebuilding projects currently in progress. We strongly believe that the weeks and months after catastrophe, when the media is no longer publicizing the aftermath, is the most important time to re-double fundraising efforts. We have hosted several social events in the Los Angeles area and met our initial goal of $3000– we are now aiming for $6000. Our funds are going toward the Super Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund, which has currently raised nearly $1.5 million. We researched several fundraising avenues to ensure our partner was transparent and efficient with funds, the result of which was Global Giving, one of the top charities on Charity Navigator. Please share our effort widely, consider donating, and feel free to contact me directly if you have specific questions or would like to partner with us.

Can We Prevent HIV with a Single Pill a Day?

UCLA’s HIV expert, Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, and I asked ourselves this question a few months ago and since then began sorting through the numerous studies that have come out regarding HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, which was FDA approved back in 2012. In our most recent piece on Global Post, we discuss the findings of our research and outline recommendations for where we need to be headed as a global health community.

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The topic is a controversial one, and the idea itself may seem overly ambitious to many. The basic premise is that people who are not HIV positive, but who are at high risk of contracting HIV (sex workers, men who have sex with men, those who don’t use protection, people with HIV+ partners, injection drug users and more) can take a pill (Truvada) each day to greatly reduce their chance of contracting HIV. This does not mean in place of using condoms, nor does it mean the user is 100% protected, but several studies have shown that when combined with counseling and high adherence, the effective risk reduction is substantial.

Our piece focuses on new data and models which argue against the biggest fears questioning PrEP. Some of these include: Will there be massive drug resistance if people don’t adhere, or if they continue using Truvada as PrEP when they are unknowingly infected? Will people become more sexually liberal and negate the protective effects by engaging in more frequent high risk situations? Are there long term health side effects of serious consideration?

The data we present rebuts all of these concerns. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much publicity surrounding these newer findings, and general PrEP prescribing practices are still not as widespread as they perhaps should be. Check out our piece, share widely, and comment with your thoughts.

Life Through a Villager’s Eye- Experiences from South India

As some of you know, I’m an avid photographer. Although I primarily rely on the power of words when I blog, photographs have always struck me as particularly influential. In part, it is because of what they add– the color, the reality, the emotion. But at some level, I appreciate photos because of their limitations– unlike video, they only capture a moment, leaving the rest of the story to imagination. Photographs really represent both the mystery and the fragility of the human condition, and they have become a big part of my career in global health.

TTE Life Through a Villagers Eye  Experiences from South India Continue reading

Student Global Health Research: Lessons from Nicaragua

The last decade has seen an unprecedented growth in the number of students from the United States involved in global health and development projects. Students offer a very unique position and perspective in these disciplines and we must question whether the current paradigm is most effectively using this new development workforce. Many students work for short periods of time (3 months is standard, although some go for even less) and it is difficult to have an impact without proper planning and consideration of important aspects such as future sustainability, local partnership, and optimal contribution.

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Fidel was the leader of the community health worker program at Newton-San Juan Sister City Project

One area where students have the potential to play a transformative role is in serving as a nexus between academia and activism. There is a dissonance in the fields of global health and development practice because research from elite universities often ends up being poorly translated from the format of highfalutin publications that may never have an impact on the ground where the people are. The irony is that students from these institutions are the same ones who often end up working for NGOs during their summers yet often don’t see the opportunity of leveraging their class work and academic connections to inform their internships or projects. Continue reading

Global Health Conferences- 2014

Avenues for participation and presentation in global health are growing rapidly– the following three conferences are ones that I highly recommend and that I will be attending next year.

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The UC Global Health Institute conference, formally known as the UC Global Health Day, is going to be held on Saturday, April 26th 2014 at the UC Davis campus in Northern California. The abstract and proposal submissions open on October 14th. The UC Global Health Institute is a collaboration among all 10 University of California campuses to promote global health scholarship and activism. I am serving as one of the members of the student subcommittee that is organizing the structure and function of the event– if there is anything in particular that you would like to see featured or highlighted at the conference, please contact me via email.

CUGH Global Health Conferences  2014

The Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) Conference is being held on May 10-12, 2014 in Washington D.C. Abstracts are due by December 15th, 2013. The CUGH is a collaboration among several academic institutions around the world dedicated to improving global health education and practice through pooling intellectual capital and resources. I’m honored to be serving on the Trainee Advisory Committee of the CUGH which will be responsible for influencing the international global health education agenda. If you have ideas for ways to improve the current global health curricula from a macroscopic perspective, feel free to contact me.

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The Unite for Sight Global Health and Innovation Conference, is held annually at Yale University. I’ve attended and presented at the conference for several years and it continues to expand and innovate– last year, the conference brought in over 2,200 participants from 55 countries. Particularly noteworthy, the UFS conference not only features academic presentations, but also social entrepreneurship and activism-related efforts in health and development. Abstracts can be submitted here, and the conference will be on April 12-13, 2014 in New Haven, Connecticut. This year, I’ll be presenting a social enterprise pitch I’ve been developing with regards to improving access to scientific and medical publication for authors from low-income countries.

If you are aware of other reputed global health conferences in 2014, feel free to leave a note in the comments.