Molly Rosenberg, MPH '10

Back to Haiti to promote health among high–risk groups

This summer, Molly Rosenberg, M.P.H. ’10, returns to the Caribbean island that marked the beginning of her career in public health. And with a year at YSPH completed, she’s bringing fresh perspective to Haiti’s most pressing issues.

Raised in Richmond, Va., Rosenberg majored in biology and environmental science at the University of Virginia. Upon graduating in 2004, “the Peace Corps seemed a natural next step, career–wise,” she says. “Serving as a health volunteer was a good way to test out my interest in public health.” First in Haiti, then the Dominican Republic, Rosenberg formed focus groups of youth and women to execute a “train–the–trainers” model, in which members learned critical information on safe sexual practices and HIV prevention, childcare and nutrition to share with their peer groups. “It was so gratifying to see them not only learn, but impart the knowledge to others their age, and to see how excited they were to be teachers,” says Rosenberg. “It placed them in a position of knowledge and higher respect.” Even today, her students keep her abreast of their successes via the Internet. “I still get updates on the condom games they play with area high schools.”

The Peace Corps experience quickened her resolve to pursue a career in public health, with an M.P.H. degree as the next step. “However satisfying health education was, I wanted to learn scientific research to come up with new and better solutions instead of teaching and preaching more of the same,” Rosenberg says. Exhorting women to insist on condom use and fidelity, for example, isn’t always an effective means of combating H.I.V. in Latino cultures, where women rarely find themselves in positions of power that would embolden them to call the shots.

Rosenberg chose Yale’s M.P.H. program for its small size, which she says “fosters strong relationships among students and between students and faculty.”

“I knew that paying for graduate school was not going to be easy, especially considering that I was coming out of the Peace Corps,” she says. “But Yale’s generous financial aid and grants have made it manageable to pursue my Master’s degree and to be able to perform research abroad.”

Her coursework in the Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases division shed light on the pathology of infectious agents like HIV. Having been selected for the esteemed Downs International Health Student Travel Fellowship, Rosenberg returns to Haiti this summer to study whether micro–credit loans to women reduce their HIV risk behavior. “What I learned from the Peace Corps was that risky behavior isn’t necessarily due to a lack of information, but a lack of financial means,” she says. “Gender inequality is driving a new increase in HIV prevalence.” These loans, she says, may be an important tool to fight the trend.