Global health group takes on new name, new challenges

In an effort to expand its mission and broaden outreach, the student-run Yale-Ecuador HIV Initiative is in the process of renaming itself and adding more global health opportunities to its scope.

The group — which was founded in 2011 and has recently changed its name to Student Partnerships for Global Health — has organized trips to Ecuador for students to conduct survey-based research on HIV and other medical topics. According to Adam Beckman ’16, co-director of the group, many of the students in last summer’s program wondered if they could expand beyond an HIV-centric program, which led the organization to expand the purview of the program to other medical issues in Ecuador such as hypertension and teenage pregnancy. Next summer, the group will expand its work to a clinic in Nicaragua, and group members said they also hope to focus on a greater number of health issues in a wider variety of countries in the future.

According to Nora Moraga-Lewy ’16, the group’s other co-director, the name change from Yale-Ecuador HIV Initiative to Student Partnerships for Global Health is emblematic of the program’s dedication to global health at large.

“The name before limited us to doing one specific thing, and we realized after this past summer based on some need assessment surveys that working on HIV in Ecuador specifically was not the best use of our resources,” Moraga-Lewy said.

Magdalena Wilson SPH ’14, who was with the group in Ecuador for 10 weeks working with the other students on mixed method research, health education in local high schools and local HIV testing, said she is using research that she collected on the trip for her thesis at the School of Public Health.

The group was originally established in 2011 by Sam Vesuna ’12, who spent a summer in Ecuador working in a government-run hospital. Vesuna worked with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to set up an HIV testing clinic, and he started the group in an attempt to have Yale students travel to the clinic each summer for research. As of this summer, the group has partnered with NGOs Future Valdivia and Ayuda, among others.

Beckman said he has high hopes for expanding the group’s wider emphasis on global health.

“An overarching theme has been these collaborative student teams and these long-term partnerships — a global health project should only be as good as the relationship you have with the people in the country,” Beckman said.

Looking beyond global health, Moraga-Lewy said she is optimistic about the potential of setting up interdisciplinary teams to do research.

Such a setup might yield productive research in other fields even beyond global health, she added, such as environmental studies or microeconomics.

“There is a lot that can come out of these multidisciplinary groups of students doing guided and relevant research in different locations,” she said.

According to the group’s web site, students can receive individual funding for the trips from Yale fellowships, such as the Yale-Collaborative Action Project and the Yale College Fellowship for Research in Global Health Studies.

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