Not from scratch
Using a community’s own resources to address global health issue
By Jackie Hart and Diana Tonnessen
Residents of Lagos, Nigeria, who want a drink of water often have to take to the streets to get it. Access to clean drinking water in this megacity of 13 million is unreliable, with many thirsty residents turning to boreholes and street vendors for relief. However, Lagos, with its poor draining and sanitation systems, has seen cholera and dysentery rates increase steadily for the past decade. One private hospital reports that 70 percent of its visits are related to waterborne diseases.
These were just a few of the facts surrounding the complex nexus of public health-related problems in Lagos that were presented to about 50 students during UF’s 2016 Global Health Case competition in January. The students, working in teams of four to six from a variety of academic disciplines, had just 48 hours to study the complexities of the case and make recommendations to a panel of faculty judges. The competition mirrors several larger efforts across UF Health to encourage interdisciplinary research and collaboration among its students, as its teams were drawn from departments all across the university.
The winning team included students from five different UF colleges, including Sarah Chavez, a Ph.D. student in the UF College of Medicine’s department of health outcomes and policy, who credits the win with the team’s community-based approach.
“The strength of our proposal was that it was specific to Lagos,” she said. “Our plan was not to start from scratch, but to utilize resources already in place. This approach not only made our proposal more cost-effective, but also more sustainable because it allows the government and people of Lagos to help themselves.”
The team’s proposal focused on building upon existing resources and organizations, such as local churches, mosques, the National Youth Service Corps and the Lagos Waste Management Authority. The team proposed an educational program to increase awareness of hygiene, change individual behaviors and increase community involvement. The team also recommended that the Lagos state government collaborate with water manufacturers and solid waste management to increase and enforce quality assurance testing.
The winning team included Kate Alicante, an undergraduate student, and Douglas Obogo, a graduate student, both in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions; Katarina Hamburg, a law student in Frederic G. Levin College of Law; Molly Nyren, a premedical student studying chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Janice Wong, an undergraduate engineering student in Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. The team traveled to Atlanta in April to represent UF at the International Emory Global Health Case Competition hosted by Emory University.
Douglas Obogo said the Lagos case posed a number of unique challenges for him and the team.
“The competition brought me to the realization that it is not just coming up with any solution, but one that is culturally acceptable, sustainable and promotes community involvement,” he said.
Chavez said she employed skills and knowledge she has gained throughout her graduate classes in the department of health outcomes and policy to effectively craft a compelling and comprehensive plan to tackle sanitation and disease prevention issues in Lagos.
“Each class has diversified my scope of knowledge and has motivated me to use the skills outside of the classroom,” Chavez said. “I can definitely see myself working with a multidisciplinary team to help contribute to solving global health problems. I find great reward in helping to prevent disease among vulnerable populations through surveillance, research and policy.”