New program eyes global health issues in developing countries

After three years of traveling to countries like Haiti and Senegal, environmental and occupational health assistant professor Jay Graham noticed something was preventing young international development workers from triggering real change in poor, undeveloped communities.

To close the gap between science and culture, Graham will lead the School of Public Health and Health Services’ new graduate program in global environmental health next semester, the school announced Jan. 12. The 45-credit master in public health will be geared toward students seeking careers at national and international organizations and nonprofits.

“Students and [non-governmental organization] workers who were new to the field were out there using their abilities the best they could,” said Graham, who was working as an environmental health advisor for the foreign aid-administering body, the United States Agency of International Development. But as newcomers to the field of global environment health, he said they didn’t realize the science behind the aid.

Graham, who holds a Ph.D., master’s in business administration and master’s in public health, said the program “will connect the science and the management side” of global environmental health and help students manage related initiatives in struggling countries.

For federal agencies and non-governmental organizations on the ground in low-income countries around the world, solving problems like sanitation in villages without running water means teetering the line between cultural solutions and technological innovations.

After learning about broad health issues like population density, waste hazards and indoor pollution, students will take on projects to create specific solutions for communities.

Graham said the program’s projects would include studies of the occupational hazards of rickshaw pullers and upgrading slums that lack clean water or electricity. Students will make use of the public health school’s existing travel programs in Bangladesh and Kenya.

Development projects like the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, launched in 2002, have funneled billions of dollars into solving worldwide poverty and health problems. Progress toward achieving those goals will depend on development workers like the graduates of GW’s program.

To map out the new master’s, Graham said he hopes to use as models already developed global environmental health programs at colleges like Emory University and the University of North Carolina.

The school estimates that between 12 and 15 students will make up the program’s first crop, looking to expand to 25 students in a few years.

“There’s been lots of demand for this from students,” Graham said. “There are jobs in this field, and we want them trained in this field.”

The program will include one new course at its launch, but will bridge two departments in the public health school – global health and environmental and occupational health. Graham, who was hired last summer, said the school looks to bring in three new faculty members in those departments, who will also teach classes in the new degree program.

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