PATH teamed up with the University of Washington to improve global health research
PATH’s collaborators have always ranged far and wide, from international agencies and large commercial manufacturers to small community groups in developing countries around the world. Now we’ve added to our list of partners one that we found in our own backyard—the University of Washington (UW), located near our headquarters in Seattle.
Building on years of informal collaboration, the PATH-UW partnership formalized our shared commitment to high-quality research in public health. PATH provided fodder for analysis—projects to improve reproductive health in developing countries. The University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine lent its world-class skills in evaluating the effectiveness of public health activities.
The result was an all-around win: Graduate students got hands-on field experience in developing-country settings; PATH got rigorous, objective evaluations of projects. And the global health community benefited from what was learned—which means that new policies and health initiatives in the developing world will be based on better information.
Next stop: a healthier world community
Between 2001 and 2005, PATH and UW sent nine graduate interns and their university faculty members to countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America where we are implementing projects. One intern designed a method for evaluating our Teenpath.net website in Thailand. The site offers discussion forums and online video games aimed at encouraging healthy behaviors among Thai youth. Evaluation results will help us make the site even more effective, and the evaluation process itself will serve as a roadmap for assessing other websites geared toward youth.
Another intern helped develop a model for determining the cost-effectiveness of using a new diagnostic test for syphilis in prenatal clinics in Mozambique. The new “point-of-care” test does not have to be sent out to a laboratory, and individuals do not have to wait for their results. Fast results are a real benefit where people often have to journey far for health care. Results of the cost-effectiveness modeling were helpful to decision-makers, who ultimately decided to purchase the new tests for use in rural clinics.
Other collaborations took place in Cambodia, China, Ghana, Indonesia, Nepal, Nicaragua, and the Philippines. In all, nine internships produced 11 critical project evaluations.
The right project, the right people
The structure of the partnership was essential to its success. An advisory group made up of PATH staff and UW faculty members met regularly to identify research needs and choose projects that could be completed by an intern or faculty member in a single visit to the field. A subgroup of advisors, in consultation with field staff, worked to match needs of projects in the field with the right people and academic expertise.
Students said the field experience would serve them well in their careers as public health researchers: “I was trying to transition my career from rural health to international health, and this experience helped with that reinvention of myself,” explained Caroline Mejia, a student in health services. Public affairs student Jeffrey Bernson went on to manage a large family planning project in the Philippines and described his internship as “a stepping stone to landing my current position.”As students moved on in their careers, they took with them the experience gained working internationally and dealing with on-the-ground realities of global health research. In this way, the collaboration reached beyond specific projects to increase the knowledge and skills of the next generation of world leaders in health.
Photo: Lesley Steinman.