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Global Health Symposium highlights some of year’s best work

Exceptional researchers honored at Colorado School of Public Health event

11/19/2013
Physician Assistant/Child Health Associate program in Guatemala

By David Kelly | University Communications

AURORA, Colo. - The long reach of the University of Colorado’s Center for Global Health was on full display last Friday, as more than 20 faculty and students presented studies on everything from HIV in Zambia to breastfeeding in Bolivia.

They were all part of the center’s 2013 Global Health Symposium, sponsored by the Colorado School of Public Health, that highlighted some of the year’s best work while honoring exceptional researchers.

Kevin Lillehei, MD, talked about doing neurosurgery in rural Tanzania where he helped treat a Masai tribesman trampled by a water buffalo and another suffering a pitchfork wound to the head.

Lillehei is part of a team that trains local doctors in basic neurosurgery and neuro- intensive care.

Just reaching the hospital was an adventure requiring two, nine-hour flights followed by long drives on spine-crunching dirt roads while crammed inside a land rover.

“It’s challenging but very rewarding work,” he told the audience on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

David Eckhardt, MS, and Claudia Luna-Asturias, LGSW, discussed an ambitious new Physician Assistant/Child Health Associate program in Guatemala.

Last June, 20 students traveled to that Central American nation to complete a month of clinical coursework. They also studied medical Spanish and worked side-by-side with local physicians in impoverished areas.

“We hope to send students to the new medical facility opening in the next few months,” Eckhardt said, referring to a CU-operated medical complex opening this January in Guatemala. It will be the university’s first permanent presence overseas.

Global health director, Stephen Berman, MD, took the stage to unveil a new online course called Pediatrics in Disasters designed to provide disaster preparedness and response training to pediatricians worldwide. Students will learn about pediatric trauma, malnutrition, neonatal care, handling outbreaks of diarrhea and planning triage.

“Right now we are seeing just how useful this knowledge would be in places like the Philippines which was recently hit by a typhoon,” Berman said.

The Excellence in Global Health Award was given to Michaleen (Dr. Mickey) Richer, MD, and Thomas Campbell, MD.

Richer, a pediatrician who retired in August 2012, spent 25 years overseas, mostly in East Africa. She worked with UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Her focus was on infectious diseases like cholera, sleeping sickness, guinea worm and others.

“Whenever she came back to Denver she’d come by and show slides of her work in Africa,” said James Todd, MD, who presented the award. “I would ask myself, `Do I have that kind of commitment to do what she did?’’’

Richer wondered if she should even get an award for “doing something I love.”

“I spent 25 years in Africa and did not regret one moment,” she told the audience. “Working in global health shows us the need to be aware that we are all citizens of the world.”

Thomas Campbell, director of the Colorado HIV Research Training Program, received his award for improving treatment of HIV infection and AIDS-related complications both in this country and abroad.  One of those complications was Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Campbell set up clinical trials in Zimbabwe and raised money to pay for anti-AIDs drugs.

“At that time people were saying there was nothing you can do for Kaposi’s sarcoma patients,” Berman said. “Tom refused to believe this and said we could help. And he did.”

Other presenters talked about the power of village health workers in improving nutrition in Guatemala; reducing toxic exposures to arsenic and mercury in Tanzanian miners; boosting breastfeeding in Bolivia and treating HIV-infected infants.

The scope of the work traveled the globe before returning home to Denver.

That’s where P.J. Parmar, MD, runs a clinic for refugees, encountering a wide range of cultural issues impacting the way he delivers care.  

“I had a Tutsi woman who lived in constant fear that she was about to be attacked by Hutus,” he said, referring to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda where 800,000 mostly Tutis were killed by Hutus. “I found out later she had been found lying under a pile of dead bodies in Rwanda.”

In another case, a Somali woman refused to get a colonoscopy because she thought she was supposed to die at 50 anyway.

“My patients don’t believe in preventative care,” he said.

The enthusiastic Parmar urged the audience to consider going into family medicine, a field he said was now `cool.’

Hands-on, face-to-face medicine, he said, offers the kinds of challenges and rewards newcomers to the healthcare profession are seeking.

“I think your generation is different from others,” Parmar told the crowd. “I think your generation is less concerned about money than it is about service.”

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Contact: David.Kelly@ucdenver.edu

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