MCH Students at the National Black Maternal Health Conference and Training Institute

Authors: Camille Bundy, MPH (c) in Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health and Global Health

Aris Brown, MPH (c) in Community Health Sciences and Maternal and Child Health

On December 8th-December 9th, 2018 the Black Mamas Matter Alliance hosted the first National Black Maternal Health Conference and Training Institute. Two of UIC’s Maternal and Child Health trainees attended the conference, Camille Bundy and Aris Brown. Below are excerpts from their experience:

Camille: I can’t even put into words how liberating, inspiring and truly revolutionary the Black Maternal Health Conference and Training Institute was. This was my very first time attending a conference as a graduate student and it exceeded my expectations to say the least. For the first time in my academic career, I was in a space filled with women of color who are on the front lines of health disparities, especially those that pertain to Black women. That alone took off the pressure and allowed me to be completely free and submerged in the information that I was soaking in. If I could, I would have attended all of the break-out sessions because they were all really powerful topics. I chose to attend “Trauma-Informed Approaches to Interacting with Black Pregnant Mamas,” “Battling Over Birth: Black Women and the Maternal Health Care Crisis,” “Black Immigrant, African Immigrant, and Afro-Latina Women on Birth Justice and Maternity Care Work” and “Sharing Our Stories: Personal Loss, Healing, and Storytelling.” While each session taught me something new about the Black MCH world, they all reminded me of the historic and structural reasons why Black maternal health outcomes are less than satisfactory.

I met Black women from all sorts of professions: doulas, midwives, CDC employees, psychologists and sociologists. There is something so reassuring about networking with other black women-there’s an unspoken sense of comradery and sisterhood that comes along with it. By the end of the weekend, I gained not only the tools to tackle this work, but I also left with the confidence that I had been missing. The weekend affirmed that even in academic spaces that may not feel comfortable for me, it is equally important that my voice be heard and that my work for black mamas is valuable.  This was more than a conference. It was a breathing space. It was a weekend where Black women could get together, learn from each other, and encourage one another to continue fighting for our own health. It was a weekend that reminded us why Black Mamas truly matter. I am so incredibly thankful to have gotten the opportunity to attend this conference and I will be screaming to the mountaintops to encourage future MCH trainees to also attend!

Aris: I am relieved, proud of, and inspired by the 1st Annual Black Maternal and Child Health Conference and Training Institute. Coming to this conference was especially important for me because I do not see many women of color within the public health realm and with great representation here, I felt as though I got the support I was seeking, from women I felt comfortable with. It was refreshing to meet women from various disciplines who understood and shared my health concerns and struggles as a Black woman. I learned a considerable amount of information within each of the three sessions Camille and I attended. Each session addressed difficult/sensitive topics that Black women have endured, while arming us with practical techniques and tools such as: culturally competent questions to build rapport with clients/communities, the urban ACES metric, and community-based research approaches to conquer health disparities within communities of color.

What I liked most from the conference was how the participants worked in unison with each other. Everyone was extremely helpful and brought various perspectives to discussions, theories and frameworks. Additionally, I was intrigued and delightfully surprised by the amount of cultural shifting solutions to research, policy, and patient care for Black mamas and their children. It was such an uplifting experience to witness seasoned women utilizing their platforms and resources to further propel younger women like myself into positions of meaning, power, and responsibility. This weekend showed me that it is vital to continually fight for the injustices pertaining to Black mamas and their babies. I was taught that my voice mattered, even as a student. There were no hierarchical practices and all ideas were welcomed. The Black Maternal Health Conference was a chance to “reclaim my time” and the time for all Black women. I am humbled and beyond appreciative for my opportunity to attend this conference. The information embedded in me was invaluable and I am determined to direct my work within the MCH world to advancing the Black Mamas Matter agenda. I encourage all MCH trainees (no matter their race or ethnicity) to attend this conference in order to observe the unique and united connection of health professionals, progressing evidence-based advocacy for Black mamas.


MCH Mentorship in Action: Attending the HMPRG Gala

Authors: Virginia Mason, MPH(c) in Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health and Global Health

Camille Bundy, MPH(c) in Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health and Global Health

Martha Tellez, BA(c) in Public Health

Jessica Jakubowski, BA(c) in Public Health

As members of the 2018-2019 Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Undergraduate Mentor Program, Virginia Mason, Camille Bundy, Martha Tellez, and Jessica Jakubowski were able to attend the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group Gala. The mentors and mentees wrote their respective reflections on their experience at the gala and the importance of being an active participant in the public health network within Chicago.

MCH Mentor Perspective:

Virginia: I had the pleasure of attending the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG) Gala on October 19, 2018 with my fellow Maternal and Child Health (MCH) mentor, Camille Bundy. As mentors within the MCH program at University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health, we were able to attend the gala with our mentees, Jess Jakubowskiand Martha Tellez. I was very excited to attend the event with my mentee, because these events are a great way to see the work being done and learn from the experiences of professionals in the field.

While attending the gala, I was able to connect with a variety of professionals working on public health issues around the Chicagoland area. Personally, my favorite part of the event was to see the many recipients of awards and to hear about the work they are doing. The gala highlighted the variety of topics these recipients are doing work in, ranging from: AIDS, LGBTQ, to mental health. Furthermore, I had heard about Arturo Carillo’s work with Saint Anthony Hospital’s Community Wellness Program in my CHSC 421 class and was thrilled to see he was receiving an award at the event. I am always amazed by all the wonderful work being done within Chicago and the event made me excited to graduate in May and join this workforce!

Camille: Attending the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG) Gala with my MCH colleague Virginia Mason and MCH mentees Jessica Jakubowskiand Martha Tellez was a great way to reinvigorate ourselves in the middle of the semester, where energy and motivation start to decrease. You could nearly feel the energy in the room, filled with public health and medical professionals who were excited about their work and bringing about health equity within various communities. The recipients of the gala awards reflected many different communities as far north as Boystown and all the way south to Little Village-they were especially representative of Chicago’s multicultural background. That’s what I found most memorable about the night! Organizations around the city were being awarded and appreciated for their tireless work in their own communities.

It was an honor to be in the same room with professionals who have done so much meaningful organizing around public health issues. With all the chaos around healthcare reform under the current administration, it’s reassuring to see that many organizations in my city are resisting and continuing to support their community’s most urgent needs.  As an Associate Board Member of AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), I was particularly excited to see AFC receive an award! These sorts of events remind us why we sit in lectures and complete lengthy homework assignments-because we are the next generation of public health professions. The HMPRG Gala reminded us that we have strong Public Health predecessors and I am even more encouraged to follow in their footsteps!

MCH Mentee Perspective:

Jessica: I am so glad I jumped at the opportunity to attend the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG) Gala. That night, my mentor, Camille, and I entered the gala excited to meet other students who shared similar interests, network with health professionals, and our course, munch on the appetizing refreshments. We quickly gravitated toward Virginia and Martha, a fellow mentor and mentee. I was able to meet some of Camille’s classmates. This was one memorable part for me because two of them had volunteered with AmeriCorps, something I was considering doing after graduation. It was extremely helpful to get first-hand insight about the program. Additionally, I spoke with familiar professors and met some their colleges in the health field.

Like Virginia, I too really enjoyed seeing Arturo Carillo received an award for his work on the Community Wellness Program at Saint Anthony’s hospital. I find it remarkable that he altered their program to be able to extend mental health services to everyone in the surrounding community. He really inspired me to explore that aspect of public health, influencing my decision for field work next semester. It was wonderful to see how much people really do care for others and want to create a better, healthier, happier, society. I cannot wait to officially join the workforce and help make a difference.

Martha: The Health and Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG) Gala was my first public health event since enrolling at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) undergraduate Public Health program. I must admit, I was feeling a little anxious—unsure of what to expect. However, my nervousness quickly evaporated once I met up with my mentor, Virginia, and other Maternal and Child Health (MCH) mentors and mentees. Throughout the night I was able to connect with former and current public health professors, as well as other graduate students who share similar interests as myself. It was quite interesting and reassuring to hear about other graduate students’ experiences and to network with seasoned public health professionals.

Attending the HMPRG gala also provided me a glimpse of vast public health achievements and opportunities available to public health practitioners in Chicago. As someone who’s preparing to enter the workforce, it was inspiring to witness a collective group of individuals who share the same public health interests as myself and who are equally passionate about the field. I am truly appreciative the MCH mentorship program extended an invitation for me to attend the gala. The guidance of my mentor and MCH program offered me the opportunity to attend an event that may have not been available to me before.

 


Integrating Marketing and Public Health Practices into the Capstone Experience

Author: Danielle Noriega, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health; MBA(c), Marketing

The capstone project can be one of the most stressful and rewarding experiences of the entire MPH graduate program. It’s an opportunity to take all of the knowledge learned over the program and apply it to a passion project. It’s a semester (or even more) of a to-do list that seems to never end but it’s all worth it when you get to show off that hard work to your faculty and classmates. My capstone experience was the perfect end to my MPH program because it not only integrated my coursework but gave me real world experience that will contribute to a social marketing campaign here in Chicago.

As an MPH-MBA student, I am interested in knowledge translation. I want to use research so that it actually reaches everyday people and I believe you can do that through commercial marketing techniques. “Selling” healthy behavior can use the same tools as selling a product for profit. Therefore, for my capstone project, I wanted to explore that integration of disciplines. What that actually meant, was a mystery.

On one of my rides on the CTA I noticed a black and white ad with two people embracing with “contract heat” painted on them. Through further research, I learned that this wasPrEP4Love, a social marketing campaign aimed at improving awareness of PrEP throughout Chicago but particularly among those who are most vulnerable to HIV. It was developed through work groups and focus groups, utilizing extensive community based participatory research (CBPR), to create the ads displayed around the city.

I was not sure exactly how I could contribute to this initiative, but I contacted them anyway. To my surprise, I had a meeting set up with one of the lead organizations within a few days. I learned that they were looking to explore a Latinx specific version of the campaign. In Chicago, Latinxs accounted for 21.2% of new HIV infections in 2016. Health marketing efforts amongst this population are unique because they have to take into account the significant variations in culture within the population; differences in experiences between U.S. born versus foreign born Latinxs; and considerations in terms of language in ads. Therefore, my project would be to conduct exploratory research on key takeaways for messaging and design to guide the creation of a Latinx specific sexual health campaign.

I worked closely with a working group of representatives from Chicago organizations that work with the Latinx population and/or PrEP services. I collaborated with them for two semesters to create discussion guides, conduct stakeholder interviews, design surveys to collect quantitative data and conduct an analysis of these data to present key takeaways for health messaging and campaign design for this population.

This experience very much integrated the public health and marketing worlds. I was able to see how those both function in practice and it was much more challenging than expected. Unlike commercial marketing, this campaign is trying to influence behavior for a sensitive area of health amongst a very diverse and complex group. Therefore, integrating CBPR is extremely important in this process, as it provides those on the ground perspectives that are missing when just trying to apply techniques learned in a classroom. Though trying to integrate multiple perspectives and experiences into one product can be challenging, it will be worth it in the end when an amazing campaign is created that educates and empowers its intended audiences.

References:

Chicago Department of Public Health. (2017). HIV/STI Surveillance Report. https://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/cdph/HIV_STI/HIV_STISurveillanceReport2016_12012017.pdf

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.) Cultural Insights: Communicating with Hispanics/Latinos. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/pdf/audience/audienceinsight_culturalinsights.pdf

Chicago PrEP Working Group. (2018). About Prep4Love. Prep4Love. Retrieved from http://prep4love.com/about.html

 


Young Feminist Conference

Authors: Esther Bier, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health & Nadezh Mulholland, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health

On a rainy Saturday morning at the beginning of October, four hundred (mostly) young people gathered at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters in Fulton Market for the Young Feminist Conference, hosted by the organization Cause the Effect. By 9AM, the hall was filled with youth, eager to discuss the day’s topics. This particular Saturday also happened to be the same day Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Emotions were raw as participants discussed the inescapable swirl of news surrounding sexual violence from recent weeks. To be gathered in a room with so many hopeful young people felt particularly poignant on such a grim day.

This sentiment was shared by Bridget Gainer, Cause the Effect founder and Cook County Commissioner of the 10th district, who gave opening remarks and a review of her organization’s mission. Cause the Effect seeks to increase political engagement among women, with a focus on empowering high school and college-aged youth. Cause the Effect hosts an annual Young Feminist Conference, a free space for feminists of all ages to learn about and discuss current issues relevant to women’s and LGBTQ+ liberation. To further strengthen feminist political involvement, the organization founded a political action committee to support and endorse local women candidates.

The first panel, moderated by Sarah Karp (a WBEZ contributor), discussed sexual violence and harassment and the recent Chicago Tribune exposé about sexual abuse in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The panel was composed of survivor advocates, an anti-violence social worker, an educator, and CPS parent. They did not parse words when demanding CPS transparency and accountability, and offered the audience support and suggestions for how to manage sexual violence. The second panel, ironically dubbed “Everyday Feminism from Four Bad Feminists,” featured some of the most creative, successful, well-spoken, and driven people imaginable. All women of color, panelists included a previously homeless engineering company CEO, a WNBA champion, a Harvard-enrolled tech CEO, and an eighteen-year-old running for DuPage County Board. The women spoke about their successes in male-dominated fields, motivation during trying times, and support systems.

The last panel addressed Chicago gun violence with a southside attorney, a youth-home worker, an assistant state’s attorney, and an anti-gun violence advocate. This panel gave way to a heated discussion about the source of violence in poor, primarily black neighborhoods on Chicago’s southside. While one member believed violence is partially the result of families failing to teach children how to peacefully resolve conflict, another member pushed back stating violence is primarily caused by systemic racism, over-policing, and disinvestment. In spite of this rift, panelists were united by the belief that the name “Chiraq,”used to highlight southside violence reminiscent of the Iraq war, creates an inaccurate representation of daily life in southside neighborhoods, demonizes black people, and erases vibrant community life.

Tonika Johnson, a photographer from Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, served as a meaningful example of southside pride. Members of Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE), of which Johnson was a founder, felt frustrated by the monolithic representation of their Englewood as a violent and despondent community. RAGE collaborated with Englewood Rising to display billboards around Englewood of fathers kissing their children, people playing, worshiping and working – an Englewood story many Chicagoans had not heard. RAGE also hosts So Fresh Saturdays featuring food, music and celebration, reminding community members that parks and green spaces are theirs to use. In doing so residents proved that Englewood is not merely a site of violence and poverty but one of hope and pride.

Reclaiming your own narrative was a salient theme throughout the panelists and speakers. Participants were encouraged to speak their minds even when their opinions might be unpopular. Whether about sexual violence, neighborhood violence, or policing, everyone has the right to truthfully define their own lives and communities and reject the narrative of outsiders. This message seamlessly blends with concepts discussed in our public health courses about intentionally creating space for communities to set their own priorities and dictate their needs. Considering the history of health officials using communities of color and erasing their voices, this conference served as a helpful reminder about how to examine our own biases and operate as an ethical public health practitioner.


MCH STUDENT FIELD EXPERIENCES 2018

Author: Gabrielle Lodge, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health

This summer, MCH Trainees participated in field experiences both locally in Chicago and across the US. We were able to connect with four Center of Excellence (CoE) in Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Masters students and asked them to share their experiences and advice they would give to prospective and incoming MPH students.  Read their stories below.

Isabella (Izzy) Litwack

Izzy’s field experience was with an organization based in Chicago, EverThrive Illinois, what she considers one of the “policy experts around town”. Izzy worked on two projects simultaneously. The first project was on contraceptive justice, a new initiative that kicked off April 2018. EverThrive IL started a statewide coalition that included stakeholders, policy makers, lawyers, and medical providers. This coalition aimed to increase contraceptive access to people in Illinois. Izzy helped lay the basic foundation of this project. She researched current policies, regulations, and bills to understand what exists in Illinois to promote or restrict contraceptive access. She also engaged in a policy cross-walk where she compared contraceptive access in Illinois with 11 other states.

Izzy’s second project was related to Medicaid Buy-In. This November, the gubernatorial election is taking place in Illinois, and the democratic nominee is J.B. Pritzker. Pritzker has announced his healthcare platform to include a Medicaid Buy-In component. Pritzker has proposed a plan to allow any Illinoisan to buy into Medicaid, which traditionally has only provided medical coverage to low-income populations. This policy could be of particular importance to EverThrive IL because it could potentially provide insurance coverage to children who have not qualified in the past. To help EverThrive IL strategize, Izzy dedicated time to researching all relevant information on Medicaid Buy-In. This included looking at proposed legislation across different states and within Illinois related to Medicaid Buy-In.

Izzy has always had an interest in policy work and was grateful for the opportunity to get an inside look of a policy and advocacy organization. It allowed her to dig into healthcare and understand how policymakers have a huge role in impacting access to care. Moreover, her field experience with EverThrive IL allowed her master the language of policy and insurance coverage. Izzy says that often there are terms thrown around that we do not fully understand. This experience allowed her to have a better understanding of the terms often use in healthcare policy, Medicaid, health insurance, and the overall healthcare market.

Izzy’s advice to prospective, and incoming MPH students:

“The field experience isn’t just about getting the job done. Take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you. Use your field experience to network. Use this opportunity to preform informational interviews with the people you are working with. Asking people what they do for their jobs is valuable. Treat the field experience as more than a requirement for school.”

Channon M. L. Campbell, B.S., MSN

Channon was an intern for the Center for Community Health at Northwestern’s Institute of Public Health and Medicine. She interned specifically for the Mothers and Babies program, a postpartum depression (PPD) prevention intervention program. This program promotes healthy mood management by teaching participants how to effectively respond to their stress. It is delivered as a group or as a one-on-one intervention.

Channon worked primarily with low-income women of color. She conducted a series of surveys, gathering depression scores of mothers which are tracked at 12, 18, and 24 months. She also conducted surveys on bonding, and how mothers interact with their child. Some survey tools focused on child development such as the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), while others related to mental health, such as the Beck’s Depression Inventory (BDI). Surveys were conducted at home-visits, but if unable to, Channon would provide outreach through phone calls. Channon would manage the data from home visits and client interactions to track changes and progress of both child development and mother’s mental health.

For her Capstone, Channon will be work with Mothers and Babies to look at the long-term effects of client’s participation this program. She will look to understand if the program was impactful for the mothers to access preventative care to their infants (well-child checks, and immunizations). This is also allowing her to gain experience with research protocols and methods, such as designing a research question, data compiling, data management and working with the Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Channon’s advice to prospective, and incoming MPH students:

“For the field experience, consider breaking up the credit hours over two semesters. I found it overwhelming to have the 5-hour credit commitment in one summer and in the end, found it more beneficial and feasible to spread out the field experience over two semesters. I had competing priorities with other classes and work, so reducing my credit hours for the field experience was the best move for me. Map out your internship and follow it to a ‘T’ so you can get it all done. Don’t pick an internship because it is paid. Find an experience that aligns with what you want to do and find something that you will enjoy going to each day.”

Lauren Schwerzler, RDN, LDN

Lauren was selected as the Title V MCH intern for the Minnesota Department of Health in St. Paul. This is a national internship program out of the National MCH Workforce Development Center. Lauren was paired with an undergraduate student who is also an MCH Trainee from the MCH Pipeline Program, at the University of Maryland. Every state has a Title V agency that is charged with “improving the health and well-being of women (particularly mothers) and children” (Maternal and Child Health Bureau). Lauren helped the Minnesota Title V agency prepare for their need’s assessment that will be conducted in 2020. She curated materials and data briefs to facilitate the process to engage with stakeholders. She produced four data briefs for Minnesota’s Title V current priorities: breastfeeding, pregnancy intention, transition, and medical homes. Lauren also learned about health inequities that impact breastfeeding uptake, specifically racial disparities and regional differences in Minnesota.

Lauren pulled main themes out of a statewide survey that asked Minnesota stakeholders the most critical needs for women, children, and families. This survey can be filled out by anyone, and was distributed to community health workers, public health professionals, firefighters, police officers, and people who speak Spanish and Hmong. They received over 3,000 responses. Lauren conducted an analysis and found that the main themes included: housing, childcare, and education.  

Lauren additionally worked on a project related to the Title V Needs Assessment process. She developed a key informant interview guide for the Title V agency to utilize as they prepare for the needs assessment.  She also analyzed the Minnesota student survey on parental incarceration. Lauren says that the most exciting part was conducting key informant interviews with folks from Volunteers of America to understand the needs of currently or previously incarcerated women and their children.

Lauren’s advice to prospective, and incoming MPH students:

“Once you have a field experience, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Preceptors tend to be more willing to go outside the schedule of projects you laid out. My preceptor showed me to link data, which wasn’t listed in the projects we originally talked about. Speaking up within the organization is important, at times people within the organization would respond “I didn’t think about that”. Don’t think of yourself as “just the intern”, think of yourself as a “new employee”. This is a fundamental period. It allows you to see what you like and don’t like, and you should take it seriously. It is great for networking and I recommend doing it in a geographical place you are interested in working when you graduate.”

Rachel Mason

Rachel’s field experience was with the Illinois Department of Public Health. Her preceptor was Amanda Bennett, PhD, a UIC alum and the current CDC MCH Epidemiologist assignee for the state of Illinois. Her project was focused on School Based Health Centers (SBHC).  There are 67 SBHC in Illinois, and half of them are in Chicago.  Rachel’s project built off of the Harvard-CDC Evaluation project and she employed program evaluation principles to assess barriers to and facilitators of high-quality SBHC adolescent health services. She also created a quantitative annual assessment to increase the knowledge about service capacity and standards of care within SBHCs across Illinois. This survey will be sent early fall to assess the SBHC on an aggregate level. Since there are no current data, these data will be used understand differences between SBHCs and identify areas of improvement.

This project also led Rachel to reaching out to SBHCs directly. Rachel conducted qualitative interviews at the SBHC with staff, and used the frameworks developed by the Harvard students to get specific themes of the staff’s needs. Rachel was excited to be able to be onsite at the SBHCs to conduct her interviews and found that seeing the physicality of the centers was very helpful. She was able to speak to others outside of the interviews and asked them about their experiences with SBHCs. She synthesized her findings in a final report and presented them to IDPH leadership. Rachel was really happy to have exposure to both quantitative and qualitative work.

Rachel’s advice to prospective, and incoming MPH students:

“Critically think about what you want out of the field experience. Make a list of important things that you want to get out of the internship. Think about the subject matter of your project and how long you anticipate doing this type of project. Make sure you “mesh” with your preceptor. You’ll want to feel comfortable to ask your preceptor questions.”

 

 


National Public Health Week: Honoring Community Health Workers

For National Public Health Week, the Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health (CoE-MCH) would like to highlight important people working with some of the most vulnerable populations in maternal and child health. On April 4th, we would like to honor community health workers and folks who do work around birth justice. We invite you to read about amazing individuals who have dedicated their lives to improve the overall health and well-being of women and children. Click on the picture or name of the community health worker below to learn more about their work!

 

Angel Griffin

Angel Griffin is a first-year Master of Public Health student studying Maternal and Child Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Public Health at Xavier University of Louisiana in 2016. Outside of school, she is a birth doula serving Chicago mothers through Chicago Volunteer Doulas.

 

Ana Mendez

Ana Mendez has been a community health worker for over 12 years. As a young mother herself, Ana experiences first-hand the systemic forces that can impact a family’s capacity to be healthy. Ana decided to dedicate her career to advocating and working with other young mothers as a home visitor and as a community-based doula. She is currently a family support worker for Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness in the Healthy Families of America program, while working on her bachelor’s degree at St. Augustine College.

 

Xavier Ramirez

Xavier Ramirez earned a Bachelor of Arts in Latina/Latino Studies and a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015. Then, he received a Master of Arts in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago in 2017. Xavier is currently a perinatal case manager at Pediatric Aids Chicago Prevention Initiative (PACPI) with the University of Chicago where he works with pregnant women who are HIV-positive.

 

 


How Feminism Made me a Voter

Author: Isabella Litwack, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health

When I turned 18 years old, I did not vote in the 2012 election. This crucial birthday fell when I was in the middle of my senior year of high school. My true belief at the time was that voting was a useless waste of my time, and my singular vote could never possibly fix a system that was so terribly broken. As I write this as an almost 23-year-old, I know that this attitude came from a place of privilege. I was thinking from the standpoint of someone who grew up white, upper-middle class, educated, healthy, and soon going off to college with no loans taken out. Maybe I felt like I didn’t need to vote because I was living in a system that was actually somewhat working for me. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of my college career, when feminism and activism became a major part of my life, that I realized my previous views about politics and voting were misguided. Although I had begun to recognize my privilege, I also was learning exactly what being a woman in America, specifically in Indiana, meant. I began reading books about feminism, culture, and health, and a cord within me struck. Then, Trump became President and I realized how much of a difference all of those singular votes could have made, especially after realizing that about 100 million people did not vote at all (Ingraham, 2016). After the election, I knew I had to be an advocate for reproductive justice, the physical, mental, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, and I knew exactly where I was going to do it.

Planned Parenthood (PP) is probably my grandmother’s favorite organization in the world. My entire family supports PP proudly, and I could not wait to see how I could help (little did I know how much PP would get me politically involved). When I came to Chicago, I joined a Planned Parenthood group on campus, and became a Planned Parenthood Illinois Action (PPIA) volunteer. On January 24, I volunteered for their Roe v Wade anniversary fundraiser, where the theme was “Act. Vote. Win!”. The event featured political leaders, state representatives, aldermen, and people who hope to take a local office in the upcoming Illinois elections. One of PPIA’s main focus points of the year is to encourage people in Illinois to vote, specifically for someone who has PPIA’s stamp of approval. They showed a video of the women’s march, and other events that happened in 2017, and inspired the crowd to make their way to the poles in 2018. Trump’s election made me truly realize how important it is to vote, but this event solidified that belief even more. That election also showed me the importance of voting beyond presidential elections, such as congressional /and local elections as well. Policies that shape and determine women’s health vary vastly from state to state and it is critical that folks show up to the polls and vote for candidates that will protect women’s right and women’s health. If every young person believes what I used to believe, that their vote couldn’t possibly change anything, then we are losing a significant number of votes from people who could make an impact on any election. If people vote for what they believe in, they can be active participants in their communities, and see the changes that they feel are important to them.

References:
Ingraham, C. (2016). About 100 million people couldn’t be bothered to vote this year. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/11/12/about-100-million-people-couldnt-be-bothered-to-vote-this-year/?utm_term=.b734b3a9acfc


Dr. Rebecca Singer’s Insights on Gender-Based Violence and the Role of Public Health

By: Amanda Wojan, MPH(c)

Gender-based violence, defined as violence against a person due to their gender, is a significant problem that affects countries around the globe. On November 15th, 2017 Dr. Rebecca Singer, UIC Nursing faculty, spoke at the School of Public Health regarding the impact of gender-based violence in various countries that she has worked in through Doctors without Borders, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Papua New Guinea. Many people tend to think that gender-based violence, such as sexual violence, is a “bigger problem” or more prevalent in developing countries. However, as Dr. Singer stated, this type of violence occurs everywhere, and is an ever present problem in the United States as well. Further, gender-based violence is often used interchangeably with talk of sexual violence/assault against women. Although this is a common type of gender-based violence, it encompasses much more, including violence against men (European Institute for Gender Equality).

Despite the broad scope of gender-based violence, we know that women are particularly vulnerable. According to the WHO Department of Gender, Women and Health, women and children are particularly affected by disaster situations, accounting for more than 75% of displaced persons. Subsequently, women are often left more vulnerable than men during disaster situations, as they face increased risk of reproductive and sexual health problems and increased rates of sexual and domestic violence. Dr. Singer discussed themes along these same lines throughout her lecture, stating that women are often expected to take on caretaker roles in times of disaster (such as at refugee camps), but face severe challenges in doing so. This vulnerability tends to emerge due to lack of resources (women may need to sell their bodies to provide food for their families) and a lack of infrastructure in place to promote safety.

Dr. Singer told stories of women who were beaten or sexually assaulted by partners, family members, and/or strangers. Many only had the Doctors’ Without Borders Clinics that she helped coordinate to receive the critical services they needed following an assault. These services included medication to prevent pregnancy and/or STI contraction (ex: post exposure prophylaxis), mental health counseling (when funds were available), and a medical certificate documenting the assault. Despite the important role these services play in helping survivors of gender-based violence, they often do not address the root cause of the problem: gender-based violence is a perpetual issue in many societies due to sexism and persistent gender disparities. So what can we do to improve this issue around the globe and promote a society that condemns gender-based violence? Dr. Singer named a few strategies that have emerged throughout her work:

❖ Educate perpetrators on what constitutes sexual assault and gender-based violence.
➢ Dr. Singer stated that in her experience, some perpetrators do not realize that what they are doing constitutes gender-based violence.
➢ Change the narrative! Give people alternatives to violence when they are having a disagreement with a partner.
❖ Incorporate wrap-around services for survivors of sexual assault that encompass mental health care and advocacy.
❖ Empower communities to engage in grassroots efforts.
➢ Let the communities lead!
➢ Evidence shows that grassroots efforts that work from the bottom up make meaningful and sustainable behavior change possible in communities (Mathie & Cunningham, 2003).
➢ Engage women as full and equal partners in community based action, and ensure that they are involved in the highest levels of planning and decision-making, particularly when it involves their own health and reproductive rights.

Dr. Singer emphasized that in many communities in which she worked the providers that worked at these support clinics were also survivors of gender-based violence themselves. Thus, they are the experts, positioned to provide powerful insight on how to combat this violence within their communities. As one clinician Dr. Singer worked with stated, “We are all survivors”. This is public health: harness the power of the people in the communities – they have the knowledge and the tools.

References

European Institute for Gender Equality. Retrieved from http://eige.europa.eu/gender-based-violence/what-is-gender-based-violence

Mathie, A., & Cunningham, G. (2003). From clients to citizens: Asset-based community development as a strategy for community-driven development. Development in practice, 13(5), 474-486.

Singer, R. (2017). Sexual Violence in Conflict and Non-conflict Settings: Challenges and Opportunity. [Lecture]. Retrieved on November 15th 2017.

WHO Department of Gender, Women, and Health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/gender-equity-rights/en/


Messages from Rebecca Shlafer, Warrior of the Minnesota Prison Doula Project

By: Amanda Wojan, MPH(c)

On September 27th Dr. Rebecca Shlafer, an Assistant Professor in the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health at the University of Minnesota, came to UIC to discuss her work implementing a prison doula project. Her lecture discussed the crucial nature of implementing policies that humanize incarcerated pregnant women throughout their pregnancy journeys. She discussed that prior to the implementation of this doula program in Minnesota, they lacked the resources and knowledge necessary to provide incarcerated pregnant women with what they needed to maintain their own health/the health of their babies. As Dr. Shlafer stated, the population of women in prison who are pregnant are a vulnerable group, potentially facing environmental risks, physical health issues, and issues related to mental health and substance misuse which in turn can lead to poor perinatal outcomes such as preterm and small for gestational age infants.1 Thus, focus on interventions that promote their health and well-being is of particular interest for public health professionals thinking in terms of lifecourse models. The long term health outcomes of these babies are dependent on both the prenatal and postnatal care that these women receive, as well as their ability to form important attachments with their babies early on.

The Minnesota Prison Doula Project implemented two core components into their programming: 1) a new moms informational group, and 2) one-on-one doula supports for all pregnant women in the prison. These components are meant to provide these mothers with the resources that they need to have a healthy and successful pregnancy, and to learn the skills necessary to form positive relationships with their babies. Dr. Shlafer mentioned that the doulas also provide emotional and social support to the woman post pregnancy when they are separated from their babies. They help the mothers establish healthy coping skills in this incredibly difficult separation process.

Doula support during childbirth is associated with better health outcomes for both the mother and the baby, including better APGAR scores, shorter first stage of labor, less medical interventions required during labor/delivery, and decreased c-sections.2 Doulas are not only helpful before, during, and directly after pregnancy, but they are also key players throughout the weeks postpartum in supporting the mother and baby in activities such as breastfeeding and forming healthy relationships. A key component of forming positive relationships between mother and baby is skin to skin contact. The benefits of skin to skin contact between mother and baby are invaluable: it helps to calm the baby by reducing stress levels in both mother and baby; it helps the mother’s milk to flow more easily; it boosts the baby’s immune system; it builds important neural connections in the baby’s brain via the smells, textures, and sounds that the baby experiences; it lowers the mother’s risk of a postpartum mood disorder; and ultimately it creates lasting connections and strong attachments between the mother and baby.3

This seemingly simple concept is something that can prove extremely challenging for women in prison. Many do not have access to their babies postpartum, as they are entered back into prison after their 48 hour stay in the hospital. This leaves them only their occasional visitations with family to have any human contact with their babies. This crucial issue proposes important next steps for groups that work with these vulnerable women. The implementation of doulas in state prisons is extremely beneficial, and the data show that it improves birthing outcomes. But what comes next? How can we support new mothers who are still in prison to have successful and positive relationships with their newborns? This falls heavily on policy, advocacy, and compassion stemming from the multidisciplinary team that works to promote the health outcomes of these women and children. Our work here is not done and this is of importance considering over the last two decades the number of women in prison in the US has dramatically increased and approximately 76% of incarcerated women are of childbearing age.4

Which leads me to a powerful quote from Dr. Shlafer’s presentation: “Research without advocacy is just a dusty journal on someone’s shelf. Advocacy without research is just a temper tantrum.”5

References:

1 Shlafer, R. J., Hellerstedt, W. L., Secor-Turner, M., Gerrity, E. and Baker, R. (2015), Doulas’ Perspectives about Providing Support to Incarcerated Women: A Feasibility Study. Public Health Nurs, 32: 316–326. doi:10.1111/phn.12137

2 BOlBOl-haGhiGhi, N., MaSOuMi, S. Z., & KaZeMi, F. (2016). Effect of Continued Support of Midwifery Students in Labour on the Childbirth and Labour Consequences: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR, 10(9), QC14.

3 Breastmilk, Every Ounce Counts. Retrieved from http://www.breastmilkcounts.com/breastfeeding-101/skin-to-skin/

4 Shlafer, R. J., Hellerstedt, W. L., Secor-Turner, M., Gerrity, E. and Baker, R. (2015), Doulas’ Perspectives about Providing Support to Incarcerated Women: A Feasibility Study. Public Health Nurs, 32: 316–326. doi:10.1111/phn.12137

5 Shlafer, R. (2017). Pregnant and parenting among incarcerated women: from research to advocacy. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved on September 27 2017.


Mesothelioma, A Lifecourse Perspective

By: Emily Walsh, in collaboration with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, and Amanda Wojan

Exposure to environmental toxins and the subsequent disease exposure can lead to lifelong complications and issues. While people are more commonly aware of the threat of carbon monoxide or lead, asbestos is a toxin that is very much present in daily life and has the potential to be vastly more dangerous. Widespread use in the past century means that existing asbestos can be readily found in homes, schools, and spaces, both across the United States and globally. A known human carcinogen, asbestos has been proven to cause several illnesses including asbestos cancer, more widely known as mesothelioma, which develops in the linings of organs. The most common type of this rare cancer is pleural mesothelioma affecting the lungs, however it can also present in the abdomen and around the heart.7

The risk of exposure to environmental toxins is inequitably distributed and most impacts marginalized communities. Studies have noted that communities that are low-resourced, with higher populations of people of color are more vulnerable to these exposures.1-5 Unfortunately, these communities are also not positioned to adequately address the source of these toxins. Having fewer economic resources can lead people to live in substandard housing conditions, where toxins such as mold and asbestos are present.6 This is a clear example of how social factors can work to determine one’s health outcomes. Because of the unjust and unequal distribution of these exposures, rectifying and addressing this inequity should be a public health priority.

Heather Von St. James is an 11-year survivor, receiving her diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma just over three months after giving birth to her daughter. She was exposed to asbestos as a child, wearing her father’s work coat while doing her outdoor chores everyday. Asbestos fibers were in the dust caked into the fabric from his construction job, and she unknowingly breathed them in as she wore the coat. This exposure eventually led to her diagnosis with this aggressive, rare cancer at the age of 36.

One of the dangers of this cancer, as well as other asbestos-related diseases, is that it can take anywhere from 10-50 years after exposure to develop. This long delay of symptoms, coupled with their general nature, can make it easy to receive misdiagnoses at first. As such, patients are often faced with a poor prognosis and limited treatment options. Heather faced a prognosis of just 15 months to live without treatment. However, an intensive, experimental surgery that removed her left lung, two ribs, half her diaphragm, and the lining of her lung and heart, followed with chemotherapy and radiation, meant that she outlived her best-case prognosis of ten years and is still celebrating her health today.

Heather’s story illustrates a powerful point about life-cycle illnesses in that they do not always have to be chronic, yet they can touch every stage of the life course. While her exposure occurred as a child, her cancer developed years later and her life was irrevocably changed by her diagnosis. Physically, Heather must live with one lung and faces limits on her activity. She had to give up her career, and she faces lifelong anxiety around her bi-annual scans. Her cancer journey will follow her throughout her entire life.
Heather has taken this experience and channeled it into her passion and calling as an advocate. She now works to support the mesothelioma community by connecting with patients, educating people about what mesothelioma is, and spreading awareness about rare cancers. Speaking from experience, she also lends her voice in Washington D.C., often working to advocate for legislation that supports a full and final ban on the use of asbestos in the United States.

Mesothelioma Awareness Day is September 26th and it serves as an ideal opportunity to call attention to the education, awareness and support this community and cause needs.
To learn more about pleural mesothelioma, check out this website: https://www.mesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/types/pleural.htm

References:
1 Sampson, R. J., & Winter, A. S. (2016). The racial ecology of lead poisoning: Toxic inequality in Chicago neighborhoods, 1995-2013. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 13(2), 261-283.
2 Moody, H. A., Darden, J. T., & Pigozzi, B. W. (2016). The relationship of neighborhood socioeconomic differences and racial residential segregation to childhood blood lead levels in Metropolitan Detroit. Journal of Urban Health, 93(5), 820-839.
3 Berg, K., Kuhn, S., & Van Dyke, M. (2017). Spatial surveillance of childhood lead exposure in a targeted screening state: an application of generalized additive models in Denver, Colorado. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 23, S79-S92.
4 Winter, A. S., & Sampson, R. J. (2017). From Lead Exposure in Early Childhood to Adolescent Health: A Chicago Birth Cohort. American Journal of Public Health, 107(9), 1496-1501.
5 Hao, H., Chang, H. H., Holmes, H. A., Mulholland, J. A., Klein, M., Darrow, L. A., & Strickland, M. J. (2016). Air pollution and preterm birth in the US State of Georgia (2002–2006): associations with concentrations of 11 ambient air pollutants estimated by combining Community Multiscale Air Quality Model (CMAQ) simulations with stationary monitor measurements. Environmental health perspectives, 124(6), 875.
6 Evans, G. W., & Kantrowitz, E. (2002). Socioeconomic status and health: the potential role of environmental risk exposure. Annual review of public health, 23(1), 303-331.
7 https://www.mesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/types/pleural.htm