MPH student Sarah Jackson shares public health perspectives from Winterim 2011 Thailand trip
Many students spend their time on winter break visiting family and friends, sleeping-in, and for the most part putting studies on hold, until the next semester commences. Yet for Master of Public Health (MPH) student Sarah Jackson enrolling in a Winterim course and traveling to Thailand was not only on her winter break agenda, it became an experience of a lifetime.
Although listed under the Business School at the University of Colorado Denver, the Winterim 2011 course was comprised of students with diverse educational backgrounds, including a group of Colorado School of Public Health MPH students from the Global Health and Health Disparities concentration offered at the CSU campus.
While in Thailand, Sarah had the opportunity to parallel concepts learned during her MPH studies in relation to the current status of public health in Thailand. In particular, the Winterim class encountered representatives from key global health organizations such as UNICEF and USAID and discussed prevailing public health issues and corresponding strategies in Thailand.
From the gatherings, Sarah discerns that despite public health advancements in Thailand, including access to clean water and latrines and immunizations and births attended by trained health staff many public health challenges remain. For example, prevailing public health concerns include: HIV/AIDS and dengue fever, motor vehicle accidents, chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, obesity in children, iodine deficiency, health disparities in different regions of the country, and the sex industry.
The class also met with prominent individuals from local health organizations. Presenters from Primary Health Care (PHC) and Village Health Volunteers (VHVs) of the Provincial Public Health Offices, and Meichai Viravaidya founder of Population and Community Development Association (PDA), are all advocates for community involvement towards health practices.
PDA promotes family planning and “has played a role in decreasing the HIV/AIDS rate, helping rural villages improve health, generating income, and reducing poverty through various projects,” comments Sarah. See MPH student Meredith Dungar’s blog From Bangkok – “Cabbages and Condoms” for further information regarding Meichai’s public health efforts.
Based on those local meetings, Sarah synthesizes the following public health perspective, “In several of my classes, I have learned about public health work from the ‘bottom-up’ approach (beginning at the community level, learning about their needs, and allowing them to participate in developing and implementing solutions); seeing this model in use through VHVs in Thailand is a valuable confirmation of this model.” Moreover, Sarah adds that this “hands-on” approach, evident in the local health programs, will complement her degree by providing a different lens when viewing health care around the world.
Sarah explains another significant public health viewpoint gained from the trip, “Public health efforts will continue to be significant in Thailand (and other similar countries) as this country is experiencing a health transition. Non-communicable diseases (diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer) are replacing the traditional causes of morbidity and mortality (infectious diseases and malnutrition). Since Thailand is no longer considered a developing nation, its ‘middle-income’ status reflects the increasing trend of lifestyle and behavior linked to the growing global burden of disease. Now public health policy in Thailand will need to adapt to address the growing problem of injuries, mental illness and chronic diseases.
Beyond public health application, the experiences gained from being immersed in the country’s rich culture, which among many things consisted of delectable Thai cuisine, elaborate temples, amusing “tuk-tuks” (three-wheeled taxis), and precious orphanages, not only produced valuable public health perspectives, but certainly surpassed any typical pastimes of winter break.