Public Health 24/7

In June 1975, 16 students from the CDC and other Atlanta institutions enrolled in the master’s program that would give rise to the Rollins School of Public Health. Today, more than 5,300 alumni work in more than 90 countries and nearly every U.S. state. Anytime, anywhere, Rollins graduates work with individuals and communities to improve health and prevent disease.

Justice Matters

Na’Taki Osborne Jelks | Atlanta, Georgia

She was a teenager living in Louisiana’s “cancer alley” when her mother came down with breast cancer.

“The smokestacks of chemical and petrol plants were right down the street,” says environmental scientist Na’Taki Osborne Jelks 02MPH. “While there’s no certainty my mother’s cancer came from environmental pollution, the area has one of the highest rates of cancer in the country.”

The experience set her on a mission to combat environmental health threats. Some of the dirtiest, most environmentally damaging industries are often located in impoverished communities of color, where enforcement of environmental regulations can be lax.

Jelks is now chair of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance Board of Directors and manager for the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) education and advocacy programs.

She runs NWF’s Eco-Schools USA and Leave No Child Inside programs for the southeastern United States and coordinates Earth Tomorrow clubs for Atlanta high schools. Her goal: educating teens and helping them raise awareness about environmental threats in their communities. An enormous tire dump in a northeast Atlanta neighborhood has become an important project for students.

“It is apparent that businesses from other parts of the city use this area as an illegal dumping zone,” Jelks says. “It creates a chain reaction of health hazards. Tires notoriously hold rainwater and create breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which raise the community’s risk of West Nile virus.”

Jelks takes students on field studies to illegal dumping sites and malfunctioning sewage treatment plants that foul Atlanta’s creeks and streams. Students clean up creeks clogged with refuse and learn how neighborhood water supplies become contaminated. They also educate their neighbors about energy conservation through door-to-door campaigns to distribute energy-saving fluorescent lightbulbs.

Her work as a Rollins student focused on Atlanta’s wastewater infrastructure and its impact on low-income communities, largely African American, within the city. “Much of Atlanta’s sewage and wastewater system dates to around 1910,” she says.

All people, regardless of race and income, deserve safe, healthy living and working conditions as well as equal protection under environmental laws, says Jelks.

“Helping people who live in environmentally degraded areas find their voices and challenge polluters who impair their quality of life is the way toward lasting change.”—Valerie Gregg

Community members in Ecuador.

Community members inspect their water system in Ecuador.

Advocating Self-Reliance

Stephanie Maurissen | Quito, Ecuador

Stephanie Maurissen 06MPH dove into water management—sort of. She was interning in Ecuador at a not-for-profit and planning to go to medical school, but her experience there changed her career course. She enrolled at Rollins and began working part-time at CARE to help establish the Agua Clara Consortium to guide community water management boards in Latin America. When the group received funding for advocacy work, Maurissen went full-time with CARE and is now based in Ecuador.

The consortium she leads helps local water boards in Paraguay, Ecuador, and El Salvador develop networks, build their capacity, and secure funding. She builds capacity by assisting people who have proven themselves by providing water and sanitation services to their neighbors and friends.

When the consortium was invited to an event held by the Inter-American Development Bank, she invited four community leaders to make a presentation. “They were so proud of their presentation and of how everyone asked them questions—they had been afraid that no one would listen,” Maurissen says. “When we said our good-byes at the airport, one of them told me, ‘In all my 63 years, I have never done something that I feel so proud of.’”—Kay Torrance

Global Grant Architect

Heather Ingold | Geneva, Switzerland

Heather Ingold 00MPH was a candy striper at her hometown hospital when she first stepped toward a public health career.

“That’s when it clicked for me to be in a helping profession,” she says. “I wanted a share in the staff’s enthusiasm for helping people in need and working to make the world a better place.”

Now a project management officer for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria in Geneva, Ingold works to ensure that funding and grant management processes are effective and efficient. The organization is a public-private partnership that raises money to support programs to fight these three pandemics. So far, it has committed $19.3 million in 144 countries.

“I manage a team working to streamline grant processes, build in more accountability, and center our grant policies to better support a national program approach, including alignment with in-country cycles,” she says.

The Global Fund channels funds from the private sector (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for example), NGOs (such as UNITAID), and governments (including the United States and Great Britain). A pressing challenge is to reconcile the needs of grantees and the organization’s board of directors, donors, and partners. “We manage our grants based on performance and accountability,” she says. “We work with countries to set goals and timetables for consistent progress updates.”

Ingold, a board member of the RSPH Alumni Association, maintains close ties with the school. Her school contacts and master’s work with Ken Thorpe, chair of health policy and management, have proven invaluable.

“Rollins gave me a big-picture view that’s been crucial for international work,” she says. “It’s important that I work well with people from different cultures who have different ways of getting things done. The school’s international flair and vibrant atmosphere integrates students from everywhere and prepared me well.”

While Ingold’s daily challenges involve implementing new policies for grant architecture, she is most gratified to see progress in the fight against AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

“Meeting people on country visits and seeing hard evidence in our annual reports that we are improving health is my best reward,” she says.—Valerie Gregg

Thomas Welty

Thomas Welty

Engaging Communities

Thomas Welty | Cameroon and the USA

Like many public health workers, Thomas Welty 85MPH may never truly retire.

A family practice physician and epidemiologist, he formally retired from the Indian Health Service (IHS) in 1997. Yet he continues to work on a landmark cohort study of cardiovascular disease among American Indians that he helped begin in 1988. The Strong Heart Study initially included 4,500 American Indians ages 45 to 74 from the Dakotas, Arizona, and Oklahoma and has yielded some of the most important information about chronic disease status and risk factors among this population.

“Unfortunately, study results show that heart disease, diabetes, and obesity have worsened significantly since we began following this cohort,” says Welty. “Indian communities are just a microcosm of the situation in the rest of the country.”

Welty and his wife, Edith, both worked as clinicians at the Public Health Service Indian Hospital in Tuba City, Arizona, from 1970 to 1982. Welty earned his MPH in epidemiology at the RSPH while serving as an Epidemic Intelligence Officer at the CDC. “The school’s ties to the CDC were invaluable,” he says.

Since 1998, the Weltys have volunteered with the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board (CBCHB). The faith-based organization supports a comprehensive AIDS Care and Prevention Program that includes prevention of HIV transmission from mother to child, AIDS treatment, family care for AIDS orphans, a women’s health program, and one of the first partner notification programs for HIV in Africa.

Welty’s experiences with IHS and in Cameroon have shown that involving community members at every stage of epidemiologic studies and health intervention programs is key to success.

In Cameroon, the CBCHB implemented a large community AIDS education program prior to implementing HIV testing of pregnant women and AIDS treatment. “This program reduced stigma and contributed to the acceptance and success of these programs,” Welty says. “Training staff to appropriately administer health programs is essential to building the capacity of indigenous organizations to improve health care and public health.”

“In Strong Heart, we worked closely with the tribes and have had many American Indian students work on the study,” he adds. “Many grew up on a reservation, trained as health care workers, and returned to work in their communities. That, in itself, is a wonderful legacy.”—Valerie Gregg

Boiketho Murima

 Boiketho Murima

Awash in Commitment

Boiketho Murima | Harare, Zimbabwe

Airport immigration officers often ask probing questions. An off-the-cuff inquiry at a London airport forced Boiketho Murima 07MPH to examine her life as never before.

“I was a global adviser with Oxfam, based in Oxford, providing support on hygiene promotion in emergencies in South Asia and West Africa, and I was returning to England after a support visit,” she recalls. “The officer said, ‘You’re from Zimbabwe, right? So why are you not helping your own country?’ ”

Several months and a few hard decisions later, Murima began her new job as Oxfam’s WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) adviser and co-leader of Zimbabwe’s WASH cluster.

The nation’s crippling economic recession, which reduced people’s access to safe water supplies, sanitation, and hygiene, had allowed cholera to flourish, killing thousands during outbreaks in 2009. In time, though, Murima and her colleagues put an emergency preparedness system in place. And although outbreaks are still occurring, “They are now on a much smaller scale,” she says. “We usually have teams in the village assessing the situation within 48 hours of an alert and providing a WASH response within 72 hours.”

As a William F. Foege Fellow in Global Health at Rollins, Murima learned how to excel in the field—taking forward recommendations from a CDC WASH cluster response evaluation, for example, or making a draft water policy more relevant locally. “The experience of being a Foege Fellow and being a part of Dr. Foege’s seminars—that was very inspiring.”—Patrick Adams 09MPH

Changing the Status Quo

Ilze Jekabsone | Moscow, Russian Federation

Ilze Jekabsone 01MPH has a big to-do list: break the cycle of drug use that fuels crime, prostitution, and HIV/AIDS. Jekabsone was an occupational health doctor in Latvia before deciding to complete an MPH at Rollins.

“I felt that I could make more positive changes if I worked not only with single patients but also with communities, especially employers,” she says. “I could bring them a message that health is a social responsibility and not just a personal issue.”

After returning to Latvia, she took a position with the United Nations Development Programme to help the nation’s government scale up clean needle and syringe programs. Four years later, she became a UN regional project coordinator for Russia and Belarus on drugs and crime, based in Moscow.

“In the Russian Federation, injecting drugs, predominantly opiates, is fueling HIV/AIDS,” she says. “Unfortunately, the Russian government is rather conservative and opposes needle and syringe programs and opiate substitution therapy. My job requires creative approaches to build relationships with national authorities. Together with my colleagues, many of whom are former police officers, we propose pilot programs to reduce drug-related crime, such as arrest referrals and drug courts. We can prove that the programs also can be effective in preventing HIV.”

Jekabsone spends a lot of time convincing local and national leaders to get on board with clean needle programs. Three years ago in Bratsk, a city in the middle of Siberia, she launched outreach programs for sex workers. She ran up against a city administration that doubted such programs were needed, despite the used needles littering the city center.

“Now the deputy mayor has become a driving force behind the programs,” she says. “Special services for sex workers have been developed, and several local government agencies have joined the project, but more important, we have not finished our work there yet.”

“My work helps people decide to take a first step and change their lives,” she adds. “By giving drug users clean needles and syringes, I am creating possibilities by giving access to services.”—Kay Torrance

Sarah Blanding 0

Sarah Blanding

Prepped to Serve

Sarah Blanding | Kabul, Afghanistan

For Sarah Blanding 06MPH, as for few people in this world, the decision to work in Afghanistan came rather naturally. Blanding, a U.S. Foreign Service Officer (FSO) based in Kabul—where she is the civilian-military coordinator for health and education programs with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—prepped for the post for much of her life.

“I moved around a lot while growing up,” she says. “My parents were teachers at international schools.” Blanding was in junior high when they moved to Liberia. There, surrounded by the devastation of dictatorship and civil war, her interest in public health was first sparked.

Her initial foray into the health sector was as a hospital dietician, first as a civilian and then as an Air Force officer. After fulfilling her military commitment, Blanding enrolled in the RSPH to earn her MPH in global health. She then worked for the CDC before accepting an FSO position with USAID. Her first diplomatic post: a two-year stint as deputy chief of USAID’s Health Office in Lima, Peru, where an 8.0 earthquake leveled homes and buildings, including a health clinic that USAID helped rebuild.

Afghanistan has been no less challenging—or rewarding. Hours are long, and conditions can be harsh, as evidenced by her living quarters: a 10-foot shipping container called a “hooch.” Yet progress has been good, she says. “Since 2002, access to health care has increased from 9% to 68%, infant mortality has dropped by 22%, and school enrollment has increased from 900,000 boys under the Taliban to more than 6 million boys and girls today.”—Patrick Adams 09MPH

Growing Leadership

Andrew Tauli | Subic Bay, Philippines

Andrew Tauli 94MPH has journeyed far as one of Rollins’ first Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows. He began his studies in fall 1993 to broaden his skills as a hospital administrator in the Philippines.

For 19 years, he was the resident physician and medical director of St. Theodore’s, a 25-bed rural mission hospital operated by the Episcopal Diocese of the Northern Philippines. At the same time, he coordinated the diocese’s medical missions and outreach program, supervising health workers at mission clinics and providing health care and health education services to remote communities in Mountain Province.

“The courses that I took at Rollins ‘over-qualified’ me for the work I used to do at St. Theodore’s,” says Tauli. “I use the word ‘over-qualified’ in the sense that I needed to apply what I learned on a wider professional scale.”

When he returned to the Philippines in 1994, he worked in the government sector with the nation’s Department of Health and in the nongovernment sector as program manager for HIV/AIDS education and prevention with the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP). He subsequently became executive assistant to the ECP prime bishop, deputy administrator for the ECP Mission Center in Quezon City, and external relationships and international partnerships officer for the church. He also served on the ECP board of trustees and as board chair for Lingap Pangkabataan Inc., a Christian nonprofit that aids street children, child laborers, and child soldiers, among others.

Earlier this year, Tauli took on a new challenge as hospital administrator for the George Dewey Medical and Wellness Center, a new multi-specialty tertiary hospital in Subic Bay. The facility opened in 2009 in buildings that once housed the U.S. Navy Hospital during the Vietnam War. Tauli’s main priority: ensuring that the new hospital becomes fully operational this year.

“My experience at Rollins served me well,” he says, “by making me a physician-manager who is efficient—doing things right—and effective—doing the right things—in whatever way I can.”—Pam Auchmutey

Megan Price

Megan Price

Human Rights by the Numbers

Megan Price | Palo Alto, California

A self-proclaimed nerd, Megan Price 09G may work with spreadsheets, but she knows the far-reaching effect that numbers can have on real people in the world arena. Price, who holds a doctorate in biostatistics, applies her analytical skills on projects related to large-scale human rights violations for Benetech, a California not-for-profit.

One of her current projects is estimating the number of people who disappeared or were killed in the Casanare region of Colombia, where thousands of people have been victims of violence at the hands of paramilitaries, guerillas, and the Colombian military for decades. Without Benetech’s work, the total number of deaths and disappearances would not be recorded or brought to public attention.

For this project, Price applies a technique called Multiple Systems Estimation, or Capture-Recapture, which is commonly used to count animal populations. “Imagine going out into a lake, catching 100 fish in a net, and tagging and releasing them,” she says. “A week later, you catch another 100 fish in your net, 20 of which already have tags. By knowing the size of your two samples (100 fish each) and the size of the overlap (20 fish), it is possible to estimate the total number of fish in the lake.”

Benetech uses lists of names from 15 local government agencies and not-for-profits and cross-references them to weed out duplicates. The capture-recapture method allows Price to estimate how many homicides and disappearances occurred with no existing records. She and her colleagues recently published papers on their findings.

“I don’t want to imply that I view my work through a spreadsheet—I am acutely aware of the personal context of my work,” Price says. “But the analytical pieces of my work, the challenges of incredibly complicated data, are fascinating. I never see the same problem twice.”

“I’m not tracking disease outbreaks or researching best public health practices,” she adds. “In fact, most of my research involves individuals who have already died. By studying human rights violations, I hope to ameliorate such crises—specifically by identifying areas where aid is most needed, by improving our historical understanding of conflict so that one day such crises will happen less often, and by helping bring perpetrators to justice.”—Kay Torrance

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Video with RSPH Dean James Curran

Feature Videos:
Dean James W. Curran talks at length about the Claudia Nance Rollins Building and the history of the Rollins School of Public Health. Four videos, totalling 26 minutes.