How to Advance Global Health

By  Open Hands Initiative, Special for  USDR

From January 5 to January 23, the Open Hands Initiative (OHI) will host its 5th international people-to-people exchange to foster dialogue and goodwill between the U.S. and developing countries. The three-week exchange, “Post-Conflict Colombia and Public Health” a project of the Open Hands Initiative and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in collaboration with the University of Antioquia, will provide 16 student ambassadors of public health a cultural and educational opportunity that will encourage dialogue and increase mutual understanding around public health issues, with a focus on displaced and vulnerable  populations.

The exchange kicks off in Cambridge, Massachusetts and culminates in Bogota, Colombia where students will present practical solutions to high-level Colombian policymakers and organizations on addressing the health needs of refugee settlements in Medellin, Colombia, for Colombians displaced by  conflict.

While the exchange focuses on creating meaningful impact for the people of Colombia, the U.S. will have much to gain in developing approaches to addressing the needs of vulnerable populations within the U.S. From this project, students as well as the U.S. faculty accompanying the cohort will have a larger reservoir of knowledge and practices to address health inequity in the  U.S.

Jay Snyder, chairman of the Open Hands Initiative said, “People-to-people exchanges have a profound impact in shaping our understanding of and relationship to the world. Health diplomacy, in particular, highlights our shared values around the right to good health and the need for equitable access to quality healthcare services by us all, especially by vulnerable communities.” Snyder added, “Our goal is for this exchange to engender deeper connections among health professionals engaged in social development and humanitarian response, and ultimately, to help inform and influence future thinking around public health policies and practices in both nations and throughout the  world.”

Led by Drs. Christian Arbelaez and Gregg Greenough from Harvard University, with support from Drs. Marcela Garces, Jaime Gomez, and Carlos Vallejo from the University of Antioquia, the students will apply theoretical concepts and methodologies in assessing the needs of displaced communities and formulate sustainable, scalable, innovative, and measurable approaches to address these  needs.

Gregg Greenough, MD, MPH, Research Director at Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, points out the importance of taking an interdisciplinary approach to studying public health of vulnerable populations, “Every population has a unique context and within that context are multiple factors that impact its health. The visionary work of Medellin’s leadership in understanding that its informal periurban population, traumatized by conflict and displacement, could be meaningfully integrated into civil society through progressive urban design and development and make a positive impact on its health provides valuable lessons for post-conflict displaced populations  elsewhere.”

Through lectures, roundtable lunches, and discussions, students will survey both the Colombian and U.S. policies on healthcare and healthcare systems, as well as each country’s perspective on health diplomacy, human rights, and humanitarian aid. In equal measure, students will survey the social and political landscape of post-conflict Colombia and explore the Colombian perspective on humanitarian action, conflict resolution, peace building, and crisis management. In addition to these sessions, students will participate in workshops on problem solving, developing and implementing practical solutions, and catalyzing  change.

Dr. Michael VanRooyen, Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, said, “While the public health implications of displaced populations emerging from conflict are generally not well understood, the intensive study of the Medellin model and its progressive and innovative social development plan provide a timely opportunity to advance our understanding–particularly with the ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC. Conducting this research through a collaborative learning model that brings together students, faculty and stakeholders from different contexts in the U.S. and Colombia enables us not only to develop a more complex and nuanced appreciation for the data, but serves to enhance our learning experience tremendously and in ways that cannot be accomplished easily in a classroom–by generating respect, cultural sensitivity, empathy, and an equitable approach to working  together.”

Weeks two and three will take place in Medellin, Colombia with the last two days in Bogota. During this period, students will delve deeper into understanding the historical context from which post-conflict Colombia was born, its present influence on society, and the advances the country has made on its road to peace and building a stronger, more resilient, and healthier Colombia. Students will conduct field work to survey and assess the needs of displaced communities and be exposed to a breadth of local initiatives working to address health inequities and the non-medical factors that affect health  outcomes.

Dr. Jaime Arturo Gomez Correa, Director of the Department for Preventative Medicine at the University of Antioquia, sees the program as a way to shine a light on progress and hope: “This exchange between two nations–the U.S. and Colombia–will allow the students to understand the dynamics and effects of the violence that has impacted Colombia for the past five decades. At the same time, it will offer them the opportunity to identify public policy strategies that some of our governors (in the case of Medellin) have developed to generate successful processes of inclusion and equity, which have allowed the collective feeling of anxiety and fear to transform into one of hope and development. This makes our city one of the most innovative cities in the world and demonstrates that opportunity can emerge from crises. Lastly, it offers the students the unique chance to hear directly from those displaced by the violence–about the suffering they have endured, the precarious conditions in which they live, and especially, about the solidarity movements and projects they are developing aimed at helping overcome difficulties, and the kindness of those who even in hardship will welcome them with warmth and a message of hope for a better  future.”

Special guests include Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey, the Colombian Consul to the U.S. Yida Ximena Mora Silva, the Mayor of Bogota Enrique Peñalosa, and U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin  Whitaker.

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About Open Hands  Initiative
The Open Hands Initiative is a U.S.-based non-profit organization dedicated to improving people-to-people understanding and international friendship through exchanges and other projects that focus on our basic shared values and common humanity. It was founded in 2009 by Jay and Tracy  Snyder.

About The Harvard Humanitarian  Initiative
The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) is a university-wide academic and research initiative at Harvard University that brings an interdisciplinary approach to promoting understanding of humanitarian crisis as a unique contributor to global health problems and to developing evidence-based approaches to humanitarian  assistance.

About The University of  Antioquia
Established in 1803 under the name of Real Colegio de Franciscanos, and under the Constitution of the State of Antioquia, Universidad de Antioquia is a government-run public university based in Medellín, Colombia. Its mission is to generate, develop and disseminate knowledge in a wide range of disciplines including humanities, science, arts, philosophy, technics and technology through research, teaching and extension activities. Universidad de Antioquia offers nationally accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees and post-baccalaureate programs that are delivered through both face-to-face and distance learning  methods.

SOURCE Open Hands  Initiative

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