The coronavirus era has brought about many changes, including restrictions on international travel. As a result, physicians, medical students and even premed students with an interest in global health are finding themselves unable to partake in health projects overseas.
With uncertainties around travel looming for the foreseeable future, some institutions involved in global health are finding creative ways to support health and health care in developing countries without traveling to them.
Premed students who are interested in taking part in global health activities should not let COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, deter them from gaining valuable experience in this area. Here are three ways to contribute to such activities, to learn and to make a positive impact from home:
- Support global health activities over the web.
- Support procurement of supplies and equipment.
- Participate in global health research.
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Support Global Health Activities Over the Web
Internet technology is being used in many different ways to advance health in developing countries. For example, through videoconferencing software, U.S. experts can provide training for physicians and other health care staff in a country where such training is needed.
These training programs are mutually beneficial. The participants in the country of interest can learn from their counterparts in the U.S. about new and innovative approaches to treat a certain disease or address a specific population-level health problem. The U.S.-based participants can gain a new perspective on treatments for disease or models of health care delivery from experts in another country.
These educational exchanges often also serve as an opportunity for American health care providers to learn about diseases that they do not commonly encounter in the U.S. but that are common in other parts of the world.
Premed students can get involved by reaching out to nonprofit organizations or professors at local universities who are involved in these kinds of web-based global health efforts. As a volunteer, you may be able to assist with organizing these online events, developing curricula for educational programs and coordinating with partners in other countries. If you are tech-savvy, your skills may go a long way in helping the team troubleshoot internet problems that may arise.
Through these activities, you can develop leadership skills, connect with people in other parts of the world and learn about health challenges in other contexts.
Support Procurement of Supplies and Equipment
Many developing countries are facing challenges in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Premed students can provide support by helping such countries acquire equipment and supplies, like personal protective equipment, also known as PPE, or testing equipment. You can support such efforts by putting together fundraising campaigns online to collect money that can be used to acquire needed material and equipment.
If you are looking to get equipment or supplies to a country, there must be infrastructure on the ground in that country to ensure that such goods get to the places where they are needed. In addition, with equipment, there needs to be local personnel who are able to operate and maintain the equipment.
Having the right contacts can go a long way in this process, which is why it is advisable to connect with local organizations in the country of interest or work with a U.S. organization that has ties on the ground.
Participate in Global Health Research
Research is one of the most impactful ways to get involved in global health. By participating in global health research, premed students can become familiar with medical and public health issues relevant to developing countries and contribute to knowledge that has long-term implications for improving health in these settings.
Global health research can take on many forms. For example, you can participate in a clinical project looking at treatments for specific diseases that are common in a certain part of the world. Many U.S. institutions are collaborating with experts in other countries to conduct clinical studies of this nature.
Alternatively, you can work with public health scholars who may be studying the epidemiology of disease or examining how different population-level programs can improve health outcomes. In the era of COVID-19, a lot of work is being done on the effectiveness of policies and programs that have the potential to control the pandemic.
Before getting involved, it is wise to do some reading, familiarize yourself with the many different types of global health research projects taking place and narrow down your interests. Then identify professors who are doing the type of global health work that interests you, learn about their work by reading their papers and reach out to them to ask if you can get involved.
While it may be more exciting to get on a plane and travel to a remote destination where you can engage directly with locals and support projects to enhance help, getting involved in a research project from home can go a long way in advancing your knowledge of global health and contributing to the field. Similarly, getting involved in online programs or fundraisers focused on global health projects from within the U.S. is not necessarily less impactful than going abroad to do this work.
The time you spend working on global health issues from within the U.S. can give you a chance to gain more familiarity with the field. This way, when you do have the opportunity to travel to another country, you will be equipped with knowledge and awareness that could allow you to take greater advantage of the time you spend there.