Partners in Health Engage

Members of Partners in Health Engage advocate for health on campus.

Members of Partners in Health Engage advocate for global health on campus. Photo courtesy of Caroline Hensley.

Nina Pham, a nurse at Texas Presbyterian Hospital, had never set foot in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea. Thousands of miles separated her from the three West African countries and their epidemic outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus disease. Yet in October 2014, Nina was diagnosed with Ebola: she treated a man who had contracted the disease in Liberia before visiting family in the United States. Nina eventually recovered from Ebola and infected no further patients, but her case powerfully illustrates how the health of one nation can impact that of the entire planet.

The graduate students and community members of the University of Cincinnati chapter of Partners In Health Engage are committed to raising awareness about global health’s increasing importance. The group represents the grassroots wing of Partners In Health, a Boston-based nonprofit that promotes equal access to healthcare in underserved communities around the world. Caroline Hensley, a master’s student in public health at the UC College of Medicine and the team coordinator for the UC chapter, describes her organization’s role as “trying to expose different players in the game of life to this outlook that there are other people in the world whose health we care about.”

A PIHE fundraising event

A crowd listens to information about Partners in Health Engage at a fundraising event. Photo courtesy of Hannah Campbell

To that end, PIHE advocates and fundraises for global health issues in the Cincinnati area. The group reaches out to students through events such as lunch talks (one of which last year explained the Ebola epidemic) and sponsored pub crawls. Hannah Campbell, a local event planner for Millennium Hotels and PIHE’s fundraising lead, laughs that “Beers to Health” has been one of her most successful programs. “The bars are great about handing out fliers that give information about PIH, and obviously a lot of people show up, especially if it’s on a Friday night!”

The organization also lobbies political leaders to increase funding for health initiatives. Thara Nagarajan, an MD student at the College of Medicine, leads the group’s advocacy efforts and says that Cincinnati’s congressman, Steve Chabot, has been very receptive to her message. “His office has been really supportive of us, and they are already geared toward ending human trafficking, so it’s a really good relationship we’ve gotten to establish.” PIHE has specifically encouraged Chabot to back the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which supports efforts to combat those diseases in many countries where PIH operates.

Muhammad Yunnus

Muhammad Yunnus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and ally in the fight for global health. Photo courtesy of the University of Salford.

Its members emphasize that joining PIHE means joining a much larger global movement for justice. At the campus level, the organization has partnered with undergraduate groups such as GlobeMed; on the national scale, the Cincinnati team is heading to Boston later in the year for a training summit with chapters from other universities. National leaders suggest specific programs for the graduate-level partners to highlight and teach them how to make the critical points that should reach government members or school officials. This support is invaluable for students and young professionals who have never lobbied; Thara admits that the process can be “daunting,” and she’s created a webinar that helps new members learn the ropes.

The group even attends international conferences, rubbing shoulders with luminaries such as Nobel Peace Prize winner and microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunnus. “In Cincinnati, when we’re all sitting at a diner trying to figure stuff out, it may not feel like we’re changing the world,” says Thara. “But when you go to these conferences, you feel that people really do care about this, and people are really doing things about it.” That passion shows as the team talks about the healthcare inequalities between countries. “Take someone in the U.S. who has been diagnosed with cancer and needs to undergo therapy, and someone in Haiti who has the exact same diagnosis. Why should they not have equal care as someone in the U.S. just because they’re born into different circumstances?” Hannah asks.

PIHE hopes to expand its ranks with graduate students and young professionals from all backgrounds. Many of its members now come from the College of Medicine, but the group believes that a greater diversity of perspectives will help spread its message to a wider audience.  More important than medical or health training, Thara suggests, is a desire to do good. “We want people who are passionate about and want to end injustice. PIH is not just about injustice in health; it’s about injustice, period.”

For more information on UC’s chapter of Partners in Health Engage, email pihengagecincinnati@gmail.com.

Written by Daniel Walton, Graduate Assistant to the Graduate School Office