University gathers to tackle cholera

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Photo by Hannah Schwarz.

On Saturday, students from seven schools across Yale’s campus came together to tackle one pressing global health problem.

The second annual Global Health Case Competition (GHCC) featured 13 teams composed of students from the Yale Schools of Public Health, Medicine, Forestry & Environmental Studies, Management and Law, as well as Yale College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. This year, students were asked to address Haiti’s current cholera epidemic, which began in the wake of the 2010 earthquake after U.N. peacekeepers inadvertently brought the disease to the country. The winning team, composed of students from the Law School, Graduate School, School of Public Health and Yale College, received a $3,000 prize and advance to the international Global Health Case Competition at Emory University on March 29.

“We chose this topic because there has been less work on top-down projects [that address the cholera epidemic in Haiti],” said Ryan Boyko GRD ’18, who organized this year’s competition after winning last year’s.

Boyko added that although individual NGOs have targeted certain aspects of the epidemic, there has not yet been a well-funded, coordinated effort to combat the disease as a whole. On Saturday, the roughly 70 participants became consultants to the U.N. and with a $3 billion budget, presenting plans to compensate victims, end the epidemic and install sanitary water systems.

The teams were required to include students from at least three different Yale schools and had less than a week to prepare for the competition after the prompt was released, said Javier Cepeda GRD ’16.

The winning team proposed simultaneously tackling the cholera epidemic and establishing a national public health framework in Haiti. Since cholera spreads through contaminated water, the team also proposed rolling out Sunspring, a solar-powered, portable water purification system. While all but one team proposed some form of monetary compensation from the U.N. to the victims, the winning team suggested paying victims over a six-year period to prevent market fluctuations.

According to Raja Narayan MED SPH ’14, a member of the winning team, incorporating aspects of the Haitian Ministry of Health’s cholera treatment plan was crucial.

“[Using the strengths of the Haitian Ministry of Health’s plan] showed that the U.N. wanted to work with Haitians to solve the cholera epidemic rather than impose their own plan,” he said in an email.

The second-place team proposed a mobile banking app that would enable victims across the country to file for compensation using only their phones. The same team also proposed implementing a solar disinfection technique to sanitize water, which operates using only plastic bottles and sunlight. One of the teams that tied for third place, with a presentation called “Funding in the Time of Cholera,” was the only one which did not propose monetary compensation for victims, tackling only the epidemic. Because it can be challenging to identify the origin of the disease — and because Haiti’s government is notoriously corrupt — they argued that it would not be economically feasible to pursue monetary claims.

Boyko said he plans on holding the competition again next year.

Last year’s competition focused on the health concerns of South African miners.

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