Section Connection An insider's view of the APHA International Health Section

"There can be no real growth without healthy populations. No sustainable development without tackling disease and malnutrition. No international security without assisting crisis-ridden countries. And no hope for the spread of freedom, democracy and human dignity unless we treat health as a basic human right."

Gro Brundtland, former WHO Director-General

Issue 6 - January 2018

In This Issue:

  • 2017 APHA Annual Meeting Recap
  • Meet Your Leadership
  • Getting to Know APHA
  • Student Spotlight
  • IH Conversations
  • Explore IH Connect


  • Theresa Majeski - Contributing Editor-in-Chief
  • Chandra Sekar - Associate Editor

2017 APHA Annual Meeting Recap

By Teresa Ekaete Nwachukwu

The APHA Annual Meeting is an annual gathering of the crème de la crème of the public health profession and, according to APHA Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin, it offers practitioners opportunities to build intellectual networks, share new science, concepts, and thoughts. It is a fine occasion to share ideas and build life-changing friendships.

In 2017, the APHA Annual Meeting was held at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), Atlanta from the 4th to the 8th of November. The intersection between climate change and public health was the focus of the conference, with the theme "Creating the Healthiest Nation: Climate Changes Health".

Left and top right: IH members at the IH Section Booth in the Expo Hall. Bottom right: Students gathered at the IH Student Committee sponsored round-table session. Photo credit: Mark Strand

The convention was preceded by an epoch event, the Opening General Session on Sunday, November 5th. More than 12,000 public health enthusiasts, referred to by Dr. Benjamin as our ‘closest friends’ filled the GWCC to capacity. The event, which Dr. Benjamin described as the ‘cheer-leading effort’ for our annual meeting, featured amazing speakers, including a video message from U.S Representative John Lewis whose message to attendees encouraged public health practitioners to continue to be "vigilant and to stay informed".

The key note address was given by the elegant Eriel Deranger, whose message hinged on the need for the scientific community and public health officials to work with indigenous communities to find new ways to synergize indigenous culture and climate stabilization. She said conferences like the APHA Annual Meeting were critical to changing the landscape where imposition of industrialization and global climate change compounded the challenges faced by indigenous peoples all over the world, such as those in her native northern Alberta. Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is the Executive Director of the Indigenous Climate Action https://www.indigenousclimateaction.com/. The opening general session set the tone for the rest of the conference.

‘’Climate Change is here, it is affecting our health right now, but we can make it all different, we can change things’’- Georges Benjamin

Monday, November 6th featured, among other important sessions, a conversation between Gina McCarthy and Georges Benjamin, MD. McCarthy, a former administrator of Environmental Protection Agency Leadership Fellow, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Heatlh said climate change ‘‘is about polar bears, it’s about our kids, it’s about our future and the good thing about the climate change issues is that we have solutions’’.

One of the highlights of the annual event was the Public Health Expo and in 2017, several hundred sponsors and exhibitors showcased their innovative solutions to public health challenges. The Expo featured the introduction of goods and services that ranged from new technologies and educational opportunities, to health and wellness services and beauty products.

Most of the conference was taken up by exciting oral and poster sessions, on issues as diverse as using satellite photographs in predicting outbreaks of disease by NASA, housing, environmental, gender, and health systems strengthening issues. Over 2000 scientific and poster sessions, to satisfy all interest groups, all pointed to the impact climate change had on health and the need for public health practitioners to stand up for justice, especially in the face of dwindling government support. There was something for everyone. The meeting was supported by a mobile phone app that was simple to use and extremely effective in guiding attendees to the right sessions and venues at the right time. With great wi-fi service in most parts of the GWCC, access to all events was just a phone search away.

The International Health Section had our Open House and Membership Meeting on Sunday November 5th where section members met the leadership and were introduced to the workings of several committees. The meeting format included a very popular "speed dating roundtable event" where members joined various tables hosted by committee and working group chairs to learn more about the committees and working groups. 775 members of the IH Section were at the annual meeting, many of whom came from outside the United States. According to the post conference survey, this number represents about 34% of the 2,284 member strong section. An IH Section leadership meeting was held on Monday morning to discuss issues affecting the Section and to set strategic goals for the coming year.

Top: Award winners at the IH Section Awards Reception. Photo credit: Omar Khan Bottom: IH Section members at the IH Section Open House. Photo credit: Amy Hagopian

The International Health Awards Reception was an opportunity for members of the section to be recognized for their contributions over the year. Dr. Abdullah H. Baqui received the Carl Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award in International Health; The Mid-Career Achievement Award in International Health went to Dr. Dabney P. Evans; The Gordon-Wyon Award for Community-Oriented Public Health, Epidemiology and Practice went to Dr. Laura C. Altobelli, while the Distinguished Section Service Award went to Ms. Theresa Majeski.

All attendees had ample time to relax and have fun at the mix and mingle lounge and of course participate in the APHA dance. The Wellness Center featured yoga, Tai Chi, massages, nutritional counseling, including weight loss strategies. It was an opportunity to take physical and mental breaks for hundreds of attendees.

The meeting featured the Global Public Health Film Festival. The Public Health Film Festival showcased snippets of public health related films and generated conversations on public health issues like tobacco use, gun control in the United States, medical genocide in China and the effect of climate on health.

The Social Media Lab was a chance for members to catch up with latest technology and discover how social media can be used to promote public health work, advocacy, and community mobilization. Attendees also had the opportunity to get, and don lovely conference themed t-shirts and be mobile advocates for climate change issues.

Attendees were offered free professional head shots courtesy of APHA. The only price to pay was a couple of hours in the snake winding queue. That’s how popular it was!

The IH Section Luncheon was another great forum for section members to interact, exchange contacts, make new friends, and learn about the tricky situation of nuclear weapons control. Paul F. Walker, Director of Green Cross International’s Environmental Security and Sustainability Program, (https://www.gcint.org/), in his well-received talk concluded by surmising that ‘‘when we think of climate change and public health, we must also think of global security and sustainability’’.

The Closing General Session on Wednesday, November 8th, featured four intriguing indigenous women activists who are engaged in efforts to protect their communities from exploitation. Moderated by Jacqui Patterson, Director of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program at the NAACP, the panelists were Kimberly Wasserman-Nieto, Director at the Little Village Environmental Justice Program in Chicago and Vivian Yi Huang, Campaign and Organizing Director at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). Others were Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, an Inupiaq activist and an environmental justice advisor for the Alaskan Wilderness League, and Chieftess Queen Quet of the Ghulah Ghechee nation. All panelists gave engaging responses to the subject of indigenous peoples and their exclusion from decisions that directly affect their livelihood and health. The connectivity of all peoples to all things was the central theme. As Ahtuangaruak succinctly put, ‘’Changes in your lands and water are changing my lands and water’’. The message was for everyone to be engaged in the process of speaking up against injustice and what some of the panelists referred to as ‘environmental racism’.

The theme of climate change ran through most of the presentations. As Laurie Nicole, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, US Department of Health and Human Services said, ‘regardless of whether you believe that climate is changing or not, we have to be prepared’. About the benefits of the meeting, she said ‘’It’s great to have global and national experts share their experience with people on the ground and to hear the experience of people on the ground so there can be a terrific exchange of ideas and so that new ideas and new actions arise from a meeting like this’’.

The 2017 APHA annual meeting has ended but the struggle for ‘Creating the Healthiest Nation’ continues in San Diego in 2018. See you there!

Meet Your Leadership

Featuring: Mary Carol Jennings - IH Section Secretary
Mary Carol Jennings

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into global health.

I’m a public health physician and my clinical background is in obstetrics & gynecology. I’ve always been drawn to the big picture, to the systems level, and my medical specialty of general preventive medicine gives me exactly the outlet I need to focus on thinking about health problems and issues at a systems level.

I grew up in rural South Carolina. After my undergraduate studies I wanted to learn about other cultures. I was selected into a peace-corps like program that placed me in the rural southern Philippines for a year to work with community health workers, visiting remote barrios to teach families about the importance of breastfeeding and other healthy nutrition practices. When I came back to the States, I took a community organizer job in Arizona to work on health care access in recent immigrant communities. I had been looking for the issue that I would spend my life working on, and those two formative years confirmed that the field of health -- through health care, and now public health -- was the right field for me. When the main campaign I had been working on had made significant progress toward the community’s goals, I went back to South Carolina and enrolled in medical school. I went to our State school, looking to focus on primary care and community medicine. I’ve since spent a lot of years in training, working clinically, and working at a population level in international settings as often as I’ve had the chance.

I’m currently the Director of what we call a “vaccine access accelerator” project at the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The project is a partnership between IVAC, the U.S. CDC, and JSI. We work in 9 countries, supporting decision-making and implementation and roll-out of rotavirus vaccine into the routine immunization program. I love this job -- it’s been a great challenge, and it’s given me unexpected opportunities to grow. I accepted this position, over others, because of the opportunities for mentorship it presented. When our Director brought me onto the Center’s faculty, she asked me to develop new work in cervical cancer prevention, and we’re starting to see some success in that area as well.

How did you get started in the IH Section?

It’s important to me to be a member of a carefully selected membership organization -- one that gives me the opportunity to amplify my voice and to have my ideas be part of a bigger conversation. My preventive medicine residency subsidized resident membership dues, and I became a member of APHA. The IH Section was a natural fit, and helped me narrow my focus within such a large organization.

I originally started out as a IH Student Committee (IHSC) member when the Committee was forming a couple years ago. I helped develop the career mentorship webinar series that first year, which gave me the chance to work behind the scenes to help publicize the IHSC. After we got the IHSC successfully off the ground, I wanted to stay involved, but with a lighter time commitment. The Secretary position was open that year, and with the insight the position gives into the behind-the-scenes functions of the Section, I thought it would be interesting and fulfilling.

What does one do as Secretary of the Section?

Becoming the Section Secretary is a four year commitment. You participate in a Section-wide election, which happens every two years. Once elected you play a supportive, learning role for two years as Secretary-Elect, filling in as Secretary as needed, organizing the Annual Meeting Awards Reception, and providing an extra set of hands for Section initiatives. Then you become the Secretary and serve for the next two years.

In my experience, the role of the Secretary is an integral part of the Section leadership. Yes, the Secretary takes notes, but the position also works with the Chair to set meeting agendas, gets to offer input to many decisions made by the Chair and Chair-Elect, and serves as a sounding board and facilitator for the Section overall. Being the Secretary is allowing me to learn the ins & outs of how the section runs, and is, as I thought it could be, a rewarding experience.

"The awareness that health is dependent upon habits that we control makes us the first generation in history that to a large extent determines its own destiny."

President Jimmy Carter, former President of the US

Getting to Know APHA

By Jeanie Holt

You may recall from the article I wrote last July, that the major components of APHA include sections, affiliates, SPIGs (Special Interest Group), caucuses, and forums. Since each of these has a different function and focus, and each appeals to a different audience of public health folks, (and like much of public health in the broader world!), it is easy for these components to exist in silos with minimal knowledge of or interaction with those in the other components.

But for the same reasons, our work in APHA will only be as strong as the collaboration links between these silos. The subject matter experts in any one section can write an more effective policy if they have the input of subject matter experts from other section and action steps/implementation input from the caucuses and affiliates. So a high priority for the APHA Executive Board and Governing Council has been promoting such collaborations. In the breakout session of Governing Council at the Annual Meeting, held on Sunday morning, the attendees generated ideas, action plans, and passion for such cross-component collaboration.

The session had great attendance representing the diversity of APHA: almost 100 people signed in; 27 of the 31 sections had representatives; 31 of the 54 affiliates were represented. In addition both SPIGs and 3 of the 17 caucuses attended.

The session began with asking people to sit with others from their geographic region. We did this for two reasons: it insured that each table contained people from across the components of APHA; and our end goal was a regional action plan for one specific action in the coming year. The two-hour session include time for participants to share experiences of collaboration as well as identify facilitators and barriers to collaborating. For the last half of the session, groups agreed on a specific goal related to National Public Health Week, the Public Health Action Campaign (PHACT), policy development, or Annual Meeting collaboration. With that goal, groups developed an action plan and assignments.

For example, Region 2 (New Jersey, New York state, New York City, Puerto Rico) plans to hold live social media sessions for each day of NPHW using subject matter experts on the theme of that day to talk about the implications of that topic for the region (see http://nphw.org/tools-and-tips/toolkit for daily themes). Region 4 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina South Carolina, Tennessee) will also focus on NPHW preparing a regional “fact and story” toolkit. Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas) is preparing a reading list to help folks understand issues on a deeper, more human level as we prepare for the PHACT Campaign in August.

These are a few examples of the collaborations going on. If you want to get involved, you can email me (jeanieNHPHA@gmail.com) and I will put you in touch with the folks from your region who are busy working together.

Student Spotlight

Featuring: Jaron King

By Janine Foggia

Jaron King, an active member of the International Health Student Committee, is currently pursuing a public health degree with a minor in environmental science at Brigham Young University. Jaron, who originally wanted to pursue a career in medicine, decided to change course and pursue a public health degree after a combination of experiences. After working with a family practitioner and seeing patients who were unable to afford care due to their insurance status, he soon realized that medicine was not the field he wanted to go into. Furthermore, Jaron took an epidemiology class and came to enjoy population health. Combining these experiences with his love of politics, Jaron felt that pursuing a career in health policy was what he wanted to do.

Jaron King during his time abroad. Photo credit: Jaron King

While a student, Jaron had the opportunity to travel to Western Europe (Maastricht, Netherlands; Salzburg, Austria; Lund, Sweden). During his time there, he evaluated dietary and physical activity differences between Western Europeans and Americans. Jaron commented that a key takeaway from this experience was that there are a lot of things we can learn from others. He expanded on this thought by commenting that we often think solutions have to come from our own home soil when in fact, there are people doing great and innovative things throughout the world. As for other students who are considering an experience abroad, Jaron says that the expense will be worth it if you make the most out of the opportunity.

Not only have these experiences shaped his career decisions, but so have numerous mentors along the way. In fact, at a recent roundtable event at the APHA Annual Meeting, one attendee made the point that we often get so locked into there being only one way to get where we want to go, but that it’s ok to take an alternate route. This resonated with Jaron, who has not only benefited from being a member of APHA but also through his involvement with the International Health Student Committee. Jaron says that his involvement is a great way to give back as a student and that it has also presented numerous networking opportunities.

With just a year left to go until graduation, Jaron is considering his next steps. He is planning to pursue graduate school in the immediate future. Afterwards, he would like to work for an organization where he’s able to be out in the field, interacting with people from different cultures. Eventually, Jaron would like to pursue teaching.

At the heart of his public health career is the firm belief that we can learn something from everyone and that public health is a field to unite and bring people together. In doing so, Jaron believes that we can connect communities with solutions.

IH Conversations

Featuring: Mary Anne Mercer

By Alison Griner

Mary Anne Mercer

Mary Anne Mercer’s career has been filled with adventure. While working as a nurse practitioner in San Francisco, a friend back from a trip to Nepal gushed about the country’s beauty and a few days later Mercer saw, “Nurses wanted in Nepal.” Despite knowing relatively little about Nepal, Mercer quickly learned Nepali and without hesitation headed to rural Nepal for 18 months as a Team Leader for the Tom Dooley Foundation/INTERMED. This decision has shaped the rest of her career.

Mercer lived in the north-central Gorkha district of Nepal, but traveled for weeks at a time to rural areas vaccinating children, delivering babies, treating individuals day and night, and educating communities on public health topics such as diarrhea and worms. Living in and traveling around rural Nepal, learning how Nepalis live, seeing what they are up against, hearing what they believe, and realizing the social and economic factors that they experience were all essential to forming her into the public health practitioner she is today. Viewing a community in this lens has affected her approach to health and attributed to her career success. Her belief is that all international public health professionals aspiring to important and meaningful work need to spend at least a few years in remote areas rather than capital cities in order to increase their understanding of public health practice in the field and their awareness of potential challenges and needs. (As a two-time Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I cannot agree more.)

Mary Anne working internationally. Photo credit: Mary Anne Mercer

After her experience in rural Nepal, Mercer traveled to Thailand with the International Rescue Committee working as a clinician for refugees from Cambodia displaced by the Khmer Rouge. While in Thailand she received a telegram from her mother notifying her of her acceptance into Master of Public Health program at The Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health (now Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health). After completing her degree in 1981, Mercer continued her education and completed a Doctor of Public Health degree in 1987.

While completing her doctoral degree, Mercer became a lecturer and remained an educator at The Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health and then The University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine for over 35 years. She has taught maternal and child health (MCH) in countries across the globe and published in numerous journals and books. Her extensive knowledge of public health is truly global; she has written a vast array of articles for several publications including blog posts for Huffington Post on the 2015 Nepal earthquake, the garment industry in Bangladesh, the impact of burn pits on U.S. soldiers’ health, infant deaths in Cuba, homelessness in Seattle, war in Yemen, Somalia’s famine, maternal mortality in the United States, the environmental health effects of fracking, Ebola, and how the Trans-Pacific Partnership affects health, among others. Mercer explains complex public health issues with ease and has a way a describing her experience that is familiar and at the same time fascinatingly unique. She communicates public health topics to the public so well that she won the inaugural award for it from the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine in 2015. Currently, she’s writing her memoir about her formative years in public health—her time in Nepal—and acting as a Senior Advisor for Health Alliance International (HAI).

Mercer has worked with HAI since 1996, mostly focusing on decreasing maternal mortality and infant mortality in Timor-Leste. By 2010, Mercer and HAI reached nearly half the country’s population through MCH education in the form of showing films, visits to clinics, presentations about the importance of health care for expectant and new mothers, and trainings to midwives in up-to-date maternity care, but the maternal mortality statistics of Timor-Leste remained high. Making use of the high rates of cell phone usage, HAI worked with Catalpa International, a technology development organization, to create Liga Inan (“connecting mothers”) or “Mobile Moms,” a mobile phone notification and connection project for pregnant women in rural areas of Timor-Leste. As a solution to high maternal mortality, HAI and Catalpa developed a program to train midwives to utilize cell phones for building connections with pregnant mothers. Facilitating this connection, builds trust and confidence, so that pregnant mothers are more likely to have attended births. Mobile Moms sends two messages a week to pregnant women during their pregnancy and up to six weeks postpartum detailing in Tetun, the most widely spoken language, actions to safeguard themselves and their child. In addition to the automatic messages, the women can also message midwives or the midwife can call the pregnant mother at the project’s expense. Because of the success of the project, the project in partnership with the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health will be integrated into the government-run health system and expanded to all of Timor-Leste’s municipalities by 2018.

Mobile phone notification program. Photo credit: Catalpa International

Through Mercer’s field work, teaching, and education she has gained valuable connections, which have enhanced her impact in the field of public health. She describes the impact the International Health Section has had via email.

“There’s essentially no other venue in this country that connects people in international health in such an open, accepting way. The content area and perspectives of people who work in this field vary a lot. We might be interested in the public health aspects of war and militarism, or how to use different technologies to diagnose malaria, or how [budget] cuts by aid agencies will affect critical programs. Whatever the key interest, it’s usually possible to find others in the IH Section with similar ideas and needs. Those connections mean that we can learn from each other, and educate the Section, as well as, at times, the broader APHA community. Then once those connections are made, the Annual Meeting is an opportunity to renew them. I never miss a meeting.”

If you are interested in learning more about Mary Anne Mercer or reading her articles, visit http://maryannemercer.com/ or find her at the next APHA Annual Meeting in San Diego.

"We have an opportunity to focus global attention on what should be obvious: every mother, and every child, counts. They count because we value every human life. The evidence is clear that healthy mothers and children are the bedrock of healthy and prosperous communities and nations."

Dr. LEE Jong-wook, former WHO Director-General

Explore IH Connect

By Jean Armas

Happy new year from the Communications Committee!

It was great seeing you all at the Annual Meeting in Atlanta. We hope you got a chance to meet with us at one of our many events. Many of you expressed an interest in volunteering for our committee. As always, we encourage our members to volunteer for any of our Section’s open positions. We hope you’ll take a moment to visit our blog each week and read the latest opinion pieces from Section members as well as relevant Section news and global health news. While you’re there, don’t forget to join our over 1,400 followers and get new IH Connect content delivered to you via e-mail.

IH Connect Spotlight

This fall we welcomed on board our newest regular contributor, Kimberly Levitt.

Kimberly writes a column every month on LGBT health and human rights.

Section Announcements

Some of the exciting things that have been happening in APHA and our Section:

IHSC career development webinar recording “En Route from the Ebola Tent to Congress” now available

Membership Roadmap: The IH Section is Ready When You Are!

Learn more about what’s happening in APHA and our Section here.

Analysis and Commentary by Section Bloggers

The latest opinions and insights from our regular contributors:

Ready or Not? A Glimpse into How Public Health Responses are Coordinated by Sophia Anyatonwu

The Promise of Data for Transforming Global Health by Jean Armas

New paper released on the global burden of severe neonatal jaundice by Mark Strand

News Round-Ups

Our bi-weekly news round-ups, written by Abbhi Rajagopal and Steven Sur, provide readers with a glimpse of what’s happening in the global health world in the areas of politics, technology, environmental health, maternal and child health, human rights and more.

December 20, 2017 News Round-up

December 6, 2017 News Round-up

Read our past news round-ups here.

Interested in Volunteering with us?

We are currently recruiting for a Social Media Manager in Training. To learn more about the position, please send an email to ihsection.communications@gmail.com with “Social Media Manager in Training” in the subject line. (Editors note: Having professional social media management experience is a major resume builder. Even if social media management isn't your career goal, having that experience shows that you can effectively communicate with a wide variety of people and you understand how to communicate across different platforms. Never underestimate the power of being able to demonstrate how you used your communication skills in a professional setting.)

IH Connect is run by a dedicated group of IH Section volunteers. If you would like more information about volunteering as a guest blogger, a regular blog contributor, or a special projects volunteer, please contact us at ihsection.communications@gmail.com or click here.

Connect with us:

IH Connect, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube

Background photo credits, in order:

2016 Arvind Jodha/UNFPA, Courtesy of Photoshare; 2010 Sumon Yusuf, Courtesy of Photoshare; 2017 Arturo Sanabria, Courtesy of Photoshare; 2009 Marco Simola, Courtesy of Photoshare; 2017 Arturo Sanabria, Courtesy of Photoshare; 2017 Magali Rochat/VectorWorks, Courtesy of Photoshare; 2017 Magali Rochat/VectorWorks, Courtesy of Photoshare; 2004 Melissa May, Courtesy of Photoshare

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