Response Volunteer and Community Health Coordinator – Stop Malaria Project Peace Corps, Uganda
“I came to Patterson just one year after completing my Peace Corps service in China. My plan was set: focus on women's empowerment and gender equality while majoring in international development. That changed with just one course in Global Public Health. Reading case studies about disease eradication was fascinating. The prospect of helping advance such efforts was infectious. I just had to be a part of that. My classmates started to joke about my strange obsession with Guinea worm – I wrote four papers on it! By the end of my first semester, the Global Health Certificate (GHC) was central to my Patterson School plan.
My studies now spread across the university, including not only courses in the College of Public Health (like epidemiology), but also in engineering and anthropology. Learning from professors and colleagues in other disciplines helped me gain valuable perspectives about development. This, in turn, helped me advocate among my Patterson classmates the importance of global health, not just for development, but also in economics, security and diplomacy. I was intrigued by how important it was for institutions in every sector (the World Health Organization, government agencies, corporations, and NGOs) to collaborate for eradication campaigns to succeed. This was reinforced during the Patterson School's visits to CDC Headquarters (which had a special exhibit on Guinea worm) and the Carter Center. President Carter's team highlighted the nexus between conflict resolution and disease eradication. Such cooperation was also the main takeaway from my GHC internship in Romania. There I worked with the Fundatia Ruhama, a civil society organization established to help marginalized Roma communities. I learned firsthand how different sectors acting together can improve the health and lives of vulnerable peoples.
The skills I gained at the Patterson School, combined with the GHC, gave me a distinct competitive edge. Despite having never been to Africa and with little experience in public health, upon graduation I quickly landed a position as a Community Health Coordinator with the Stop Malaria Project. With 250 million infections globally each year (one million lethal), this is an enormous effort. Uganda is particularly challenging with 70,000-110,000 people dying every year due to the disease. My first stop, however, was Senegal to attend "Malaria Boot Camp." This intensive technical training for the Peace Corps' initiative Stomping Out Malaria in Africa includes experts from USAID, CDC, NIH, PMI (President's Malaria Initiative) and Johns Hopkins University. The aim is both to develop expertise on interventions for malaria prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, and to build a network of volunteers fighting malaria in twenty-three countries across the continent.
Working with Stop Malaria, I am putting my graduate education to work on one of the leading challenges of our day. In Uganda, I work with officials at the Ministry of Health, USAID, and Village Health Teams. It is humbling to be part of such an important effort, but intensely rewarding. Indeed, this is one of those rare instances where you actually know that what you are doing has an impact. The Patterson School helped make this possible, providing the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to pursue my goals. What's next is hard to say – I've learned that plans can change. I've been bitten by the "Africa Bug" and am becoming a malaria expert. Then again, dracunculiasis (Guinea worm) is now only endemic in four African countries. With the right institutions focused on the problem …”
Update: In Fall 2014, Ashley became the International Center Program Coordinator at Western Kentucky University. She will also act there as liaison to the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and serve as advisor for sponsored students from Saudi Arabia and Brazil.