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Masters Students Head to Zanzibar to Work on Malaria Prevention

March 26, 2012

By Eric Schatzkin

As they prepare to embark on their 10 week fieldwork course, current UCSF Global Health Master’s students Julie Bauch and Jessica Gu are relishing the opportunity to work on a malaria prevention project in Zanzibar with the Global Health Group’s Malaria Elimination Initiative. Though malaria incidence in Zanzibar is now extremely low, the challenge of translating malaria control efforts to true malaria elimination remains a complex one.

Because a small number of malaria-infected individuals have the capacity to spread the disease, an important step towards worldwide malaria eradication is maintaining malaria control efforts even after the disease prevalence drops to extremely low levels. Over the past 40 years, spikes in Zanzibar’s malaria levels have occurred when control efforts are abandoned, and the concern now with Zanzibar’s malaria elimination efforts is that as the disease fades from the public’s eye, conditions can become ripe for disease resurgence. Bauch and Gu will work on a project related to the maintenance of those control efforts – conducting interviews with residents of two districts in Zanzibar about their perceptions of malaria risk and doing an analysis of what preventative measures are currently being used in the country (e.g., to find out if bed nets are still being used).

Though both Bauch and Gu have worked previously in Africa, the research work in Zanzibar is something of a homecoming for Gu. From 2008 to 2011, Gu lived in Arusha, Tanzania, where she helped found a non-profit, One Heart Source, that provides housing and educational opportunities for orphaned and abandoned children. Though she kept an open mind when considering different fieldwork opportunities around the world, the chance to head back and work in Tanzania was too good to pass up, as she notes, “being able to work in Tanzania wasn’t my sole intention, but it’s great that there’s continuity between my life a year ago and my life now.”

The impending trip to Zanzibar will be the first for Bauch, a registered trauma nurse, but she is looking forward to experiencing a new part of the continent, having previously worked and spent time in South Africa, Ghana, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and Mozambique. In Ghana, Bauch worked with Brilliant Future International, a non-profit that sponsors young women as they attend high school, and during her tenure with the organization Bauch designed and implemented a public health education program. Bauch has also spent time on medical missions in Peru and India for the U.S.-based non-profit Smile Network International, which provides children with reconstructive facial surgeries.

Though their backgrounds are different, both Bauch and Gu were drawn to UCSF because of the unique Global Health Sciences curriculum. As Bauch says, “I’d been working in global health and I really wanted a program which reflected that. And UCSF’s program incorporated other aspects of global health that are really important to me – political, social, economic, and ethical considerations are taught alongside technical epidemiological skills.”

Gu also wanted a program that mirrored her view of development work, and spoke about why she chose UCSF over schools of public health around the country, “I suppose I see a difference between ‘international public health,’ and something like ‘global health.’ With ‘international public health,’ too often we still have the concept of ‘us in one country,’ and ‘you in another country. But ‘global health’ goes past those boundaries, and I think that’s a more accurate reflection of how the world actually works these days.”

While their reasoning behind choosing the Global Health Sciences program was similar, Bauch and Gu’s original motivations for attending graduate school were somewhat different. For Bauch, who had already worked for several years as a nurse, getting a Master’s in Global Health Sciences provides an avenue to combine project design and coordination with the technical skills she already possesses as a trauma nurse. Though she can continue to take her skills anywhere in the world, training at UCSF “will open up types of jobs I can apply to – more public health-focused opportunities rather than only primary care.”

For Gu, the primary motivating factor was gaining a better understanding of the role research plays in global health. Academic research has long been a driving force of international development, aid, and policy, and for someone with experience in the non-profit community, as Gu states, “getting more familiar with [global health] research will give me an understanding of development work that I didn’t have before.”

As they make their final preparations before flying to Zanzibar, Gu and Bauch eagerly await what lies ahead of them. For Gu, the Zanzibar malaria project is the perfect combination of location and topic. Not only will she be able to develop the research tools that led her to graduate school in the first place, but she gets to return to Tanzania, her second home. To Bauch, working in Zanzibar represents the chance to add research skills to her global health utility belt, “I thought I was going to look for an internship when I got here, but my mentor, Dr. Kimberly Baltzell, had worked on research in Zanzibar before and had good contacts there, and, now that I’m going, being able to gain academic research skills from this program is something I’m really excited about.”