International Health Majors Conduct Research in Rwanda

OCTOBER 15, 2013 - This fall, international health majors Kevin Diasti (NHS’14) and Laura Shrum (NHS’14) are conducting research projects in Rwanda.

The seniors are living in the capital city of Kigali and working at the World Health Organization’s country office as part of the Department of International Health’s practical experience abroad program.  Both say they have enjoyed the experience so far.

“The experience is definitely valuable to me because I am learning things you can only learn in a work environment,” Shrum says.  “Besides, Kigali is an awesome city to live in.”

Adds Diasti: “I am loving the experience so far.  As a young person, there is always that dream to explore unknown parts of the world and discover how you can make a difference. I feel like all of that has become a reality.”

Refugee Health Services

Diasti is dividing up his time in Rwanda on two efforts – an internship at the United Nations Development Group and his academic research and thesis.  He says the former has influenced the topic for the latter.

“I was exposed to a project that I have decided to turn into my thesis,” he says.  “In late September, I had the amazing opportunity to visit a refugee camp and see how the policies I’ve studied in my Georgetown classes affect vulnerable populations in real time. After my visit, I knew I absolutely had to look into refugee health services more.”

For his senior thesis, he will be examining the challenges of integrating the refugees into the country’s insurance system and the issues health facilities face when providing health services to refugee communities.

Human Resource Development

Meanwhile, Shrum has focused her attention on a policy analysis research project.  Specifically, she is examining a human resource training program called Human Resources for Health, which launched in 2012.

The program, she says, is a partnership among the government of Rwanda, the United States federal government, and approximately two dozen U.S.-based institutions.

“The partnership’s goal is for U.S. professionals to train Rwandan medical practitioners to teach the next generation of high quality Rwandan doctors, nurses, health administrators, and oral health professionals to create a sustainable health workforce that will improve system-wide health outcomes,” she says.  “It is a novel program for sub-Saharan Africa.”

Solid Foundation

Both Diasti and Shrum say the international health major has given them a strong foundation for their work abroad.

“The major gave me a broad understanding of how health systems function ranging from understanding stakeholder roles to the effect of demographic challenges to specific disease treatments,” Shrum says.  “Since the WHO functions on all planes of the health system, this background has been essential to understand what is going on in Rwanda and how the [country office] is interacting with the Ministry of Health.”

Diasti pointed to the major’s “high academic standards” and focus on areas such as epidemiology, health promotion, and the political economy of health.   

“Each class has also provided me with an opportunity to develop my intangible skills,” he says.  “We are constantly challenged to see the world in the perspective of those we are trying to help, we are encouraged to provide our own opinions, and we are always given opportunities to use what we learn in class in the real world.”

Involved Undergraduates

On campus, Diasti has participated in the Philodemic Society, served as a peer advisor and a board member of the GU AIDS Coalition, played club tennis, and worked with the International Relations Club.

“Georgetown will be a part of me forever, and I’m eager to return to campus as an alumnus and give back to the community that has given me so much,” he says.

Shrum has played and held leadership positions with club rugby, served as a resident assistant, and worked as an administrative assistant in a laboratory at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.  She also studied abroad at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen.

“I’ve loved my Georgetown experience and wouldn’t be happy anywhere else,” she says.

By Bill Cessato