By Jessica Corbett and TinaMarie Craven
Cornell University launched a Global and Public Health major this semester in response to student demand and demonstrated interest in its minor program, Robert Parker, director of undergraduate studies for Cornell’s Division of Nutritional Sciences, said.
Parker noted a trend among higher education institutions developing similar programs, and said examination of peer programs was a key part of developing Cornell’s Global and Public Health major, which was proposed by the Division of Natural Sciences. Public health typically refers to domestic population health, while global health is applied beyond the U.S., Parker said.
“Our program is designed to encompass both of those scenarios,” Parker said, “Our intent is to weave both domestic and international issues, whenever possible, throughout the entire curriculum.”
Growing interest in this field isn’t contained to university students. TechChange, a D.C.-based startup launched in 2010, provides online technology training for agents of social change. Members of the global and public health field are part of their target audience for course offerings.
Nick Martin, CEO and founder of TechChange, said increased cell phone and Internet availability has changed how health issues can be approached globally.
“We look at things like patient adherence — getting people to take their pills by getting SMS reminders, to remote monitoring — being able to attach the phone to things like censors, to do diagnostic tests, those kinds of things,” Martin said. “Also, for frontline healthcare workers, in most of the world, a number of countries, people don’t have regular to access to hospitals and doctors with health care facilities.”
Cornell’s program focuses on building a deep understanding of both natural and behavioral sciences, combined with a mandatory ‘real-world’ experiential learning course, Parker said. Course requirements range from biochemistry and psychology, to courses on statistics and epidemiology, or the study of the spread of disease.
Parker said one of the reasons mobile technology offers so much opportunity in this field is that transcends limitations of physical infrastructure.
“One of the challenges, often, particularly in resource-poor communities is trying to figure out what’s happening. And yet as access to mobile devices explodes around the world, it’s becoming a two-way street,” Parker said. “Innovations in technology that transcend traditional infrastructure are opening up lots of new opportunities—both to acquire information about the nature of communities and to effect change in those communities.”
The internet and media are making the public more aware of current health issues Rebecca Stoltzfus, director of the global health minor, said.
“Students find these problems disturbing and compelling, and they want to see how their education can make a difference in people’s lives and can close a gap on some of the big global health inequities that exist in the world,” Stoltzfus said.
Danielle Corona, a biology major and global health minor, conducted her fieldwork in Peru, where she worked to encourage Peruvian women to immunize their children. Vaccine bracelets acted as a physical reminder for mothers, which Corona said was helpful because the bracelet made it easier to bridge literacy and linguistic gaps.
Corona said the program allows students to expand their understandings of health by studying health issues from a broader mindset.
“With Ebola, we have something that’s starting in a small developing country, but it has the potential to spread to other countries and we need to understand how we can deal with issues that are serious,” Corona said. “Globalization is a real thing. We have to know how to deal with health threats around the world, whether it is a small village in Thailand or a main city in America.”
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