Eight Students Who Rocked Public Health in 2016

by Johanzynn Gatewood, MPH Candidate

Students of Public Health focuses on research projects and other contributions students are making to advance public health. This series is guest edited by Johanzynn Gatewood, an MPH candidate in Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Florida-Gainesville [Full bio].

2016 was a busy year for those in public health. Zika virus, a disease caused by an infected mosquito and linked to birth defects in babies born to infected women, emerged as one of the most pressing public health concerns of the year, causing alarm throughout South America and spreading anxiety into the United States. Many other ongoing events around the world also impacted public health here at home, from the controversy surrounding whether or not to grant US asylum to 10,000 Syrian refugees, to news of Fidel Castro’s death and warming ties with Cuba.

As the year draws to a close, “Students of Public Health” would like to highlight the work of a few students we feel who made some of the most noteworthy contributions to the research and advancement of public health in their respective fields this year. These students, ranked in no particular order, are featured because of their timely efforts and were selected from over 200 students recognized this year by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH).

Please join us in congratulating these exemplary students (and tell us about other students doing amazing work in public health!) by leaving a comment below.

*The following information is reproduced, with permission, from ASPPH.org and from authors who contributed material appearing on the ASPPH website. To read the articles in their entirety visit http://www.aspph.org/category/student-alumni-achievements/. Or click on the links provided for each project below.

1. UNC Students Develop App to Link Refugees with Reproductive Health Services

Students: Rebeccah Bartlett, Zainab Alidina, and Hannah Rackers
School: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gillings School of Global Public Health
Source: Jennie Saia/UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

Rebeccah Bartlett, Zainab Alidina, and Hannah Rackers at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

Rebeccah Bartlett, Zainab Alidina, and Hannah Rackers at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

mAdapt is a new app currently being co-developed by an alumna and two students of the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The mobile app uses cell phone technology to provide refugees with fast answers to questions about pressing reproductive health needs. Users can search for information by location and/or language, and the app will connect them with accessible health-care services near their current location.

The developers from the Gillings School are Rebeccah Bartlett (pictured left), a recent alumna, and second-year graduate students Zainab Alidina (center picture) and Hannah Rackers (pictured right). Bartlett, Alidina, and Rackers are members of the project’s executive team. Shahrzad Rouhani, another alumna of the UNC Gillings maternal and child health department, serves as a project consultant.

The developers were motivated to create the app because, globally, one in every 113 people currently is seeking asylum, is internally displaced within their country of origin, or is living as a refugee in another country. Among these individuals, some of the most vulnerable are women and girls, who may lack access to basic family planning services and pre- and postnatal care.

“Refugee services are chronically underfunded,” Bartlett added. “Those which attempt to address women and girls’ health directly are even more so. mAdapt helps create a shortcut to knowledge about care options and maps need as the refugees themselves see it. In the long term, this will not only benefit refugees but also the host communities that support them as they adjust to their new lives.”

In addition to connecting refugees with services, mAdapt also will collect de-identified data about app users to help inform future public health and policy development. By mapping which services are being sought in which global locations, the developers hope to improve health-care delivery and reduce wasted resources.

To learn more about the mAdapt project, visit www.madapt.org.

2. Florida International Students Help Fight Zika

Students: Isabel Griffin and Lakisha Thomas
School: Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work
Source: Cecile Houry/Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work

Isabel Griffin, Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work

Isabel Griffin, Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work

Lakisha Thomas, Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work

Lakisha Thomas, Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Originally published at ASPPH.org in September 2016

The first known place in the continental United States where people were infected with the Zika virus through a local mosquito bite was a tiny, one-square mile, area in the Wynwood district, an urban art-driven and trendy neighborhood a few miles north of downtown Miami. By now, a 1.5 square mile area in the City of Miami Beach is also an active transmission site and the number of cases for the state of Florida has risen to 64. This does not include the almost 600 travel-related cases of Zika in Florida.

Two FIU Stempel College doctoral students have also been heavily involved in the local fight against Zika. Ms. Isabel Griffin (pictured left), a second year doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology at FIU Stempel College, is interested in emerging infectious diseases and global health. Ms. Lakisha Thomas (pictured right), a second year doctoral student in the Department of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention is interested in minority health, specifically health disparities among African-Americans.

Both students are also working full-time in the Department of Epidemiology at the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County. As such, they are engaged in the investigations of travel-related Zika cases and the mosquito control efforts regarding these cases, the community outreach and surveillance in areas identified with possible local Zika transmission, the coordination of Zika testing for patients meeting testing criteria, and the dissemination of educational information to persons testing positive to prevent transmission and spread.

For both of them, this professional experience highlights the importance of intervention, but also research and knowledge. Ms. Griffin, for instance, explains that “as an outbreak epidemiologist, I am constantly amazed by the thousands of different bacteria and viruses in the world. Sometimes the source of an outbreak is something we would expect — like food or a mosquito — but sometimes it is something unconventional, like tattoo ink. These viruses and bacteria evolve so quickly, we have to be willing to keep learning in order to keep up with them.” Working on a doctoral degree in public health was therefore a logical choice for her, helping her be a more knowledgeable and impactful professional.

3. Tulane Student Conducting NIH-funded Research in Cuba

Student: Alejandra Marks
School: Tulane University, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine
Source: Deirdre D. Boling/Tulane University, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine

Maternity waiting homes in Cuba provide a place for women to live and receive care if they have obstetric complications, live far from a hospital, or do not have stable living conditions. Photo by Dr. Arachu Castro

Maternity waiting homes in Cuba provide a place for women to live and receive care if they have obstetric complications, live far from a hospital, or do not have stable living conditions. Photo by Dr. Arachu Castro

The thawing of relations with Cuba makes it possible for Tulane University public health researchers to build collaborations with public health experts there. Tulane student Ms. Alejandra Marks is the first US student to conduct NIH-funded research under the guidance of mentors from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and a mentor with the National School of Public Health in Havana, Cuba.

Ms. Marks, a native of Athens, Ohio, spent eight weeks in Cuba under the umbrella of the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research and Training (MHIRT) grant to build a conceptual framework to understand the maternity waiting homes program in Cuba, and its spread throughout the world. Maternity waiting homes are places where pregnant women can live and receive care if they have obstetric complications, ordinarily live far away from a hospital, or do not have stable housing or adequate living conditions.

4. South Florida Student Creates App to Fight Zika

Student: Dr. Arturo Rebollón
School: University of South Florida, College of Public Health
Source: Natalie D. Preston/University of South Florida College of Public Health

Dr. Arturo Rebollón, University of South Florida, School of Public Health

Dr. Arturo Rebollón, University of South Florida, School of Public Health

Dr. Arturo Rebollón (pictured left), a doctoral student based in Panama, says it is time to give the community the empowerment they need to combat Zika in Panama. He is working with Esri Panamá, a geographical information systems mapping company, to create a new web application for all things Zika.

From information about Zika provided in laymen terms to prevention tips and interactive maps, the tool is meant to create a vital link, according to Rebollón.

“The whole idea is to create mobilization from the community site because the health ministry doesn’t have enough people to do it,” he said. “This tool is a link between academia, health organizations, and the community.”

The content of the web application is open source and available to anyone via the web at www.geozika.com. A downloadable app is also in the works.

Ms. Lismarí Vásquez (pictured right) of Esri Panamá is designing the platform for the web application, while Rebollón provides oversight on the clinical information and structure.

5. UTHealth Student Establishes Donor Milk Depot

Student: Lisa Wagner
School: University of Texas, UTHealth School of Public Health
Source: Shannon Neufeld and Anissa Anderson Orr/University of Texas, UTHealth School of Public Health

Lisa Wagner, RN, a student at UTHealth School of Public Health

Lisa Wagner, RN, a student at UTHealth School of Public Health

When class research revealed a severe shortage in donated human breast milk, UTHealth School of Public Health student Ms. Lisa Wagner, a neonatal nurse, established a collection site at her hospital to boost supply. She launched the Donor Milk Depot at the Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital last May — one of only a handful of breast milk collection sites in the Houston area, and the first at a Houston Methodist facility. Donated human breast milk is an essential source of nutrition for premature babies whose mothers are unable to produce enough milk.

Ms. Wagner says an assignment in her Introduction to Management and Policy Sciences class to craft a proposal for a public health project, gave her the perfect opportunity to support breast milk donation. It was a cause she had long supported. Ms. Wagner breastfed both of her children, now 10 and 6, and saw the preemies she cared for thrive when fed breast milk. The nation’s neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) have about a six-million ounce shortage of donated human breast milk, she says.

The depot collects donated breast milk and delivers it to the Austin Mother’s Milk Bank, where it is pasteurized, tested for safety and then distributed to the Methodist San Jacinto NICU and NICUs throughout the United States. Surplus is available for parents to purchase.

For her work on the project, Ms. Wagner was nominated by a Methodist coworker for the “Daisy Award,” which honors extraordinary nurses in the nation. The milk depot has collected nearly 15,000 ounces of human donor milk since it was started.


Johanzynn Gatewood, BS, is an MPH candidate at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Her interests include health communication, the role of social media in public health, health literacy, and minority health. [Full bio].

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