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International fellows travel the globe to learn by doing

Yale Medicine Magazine, 1999 - Winter


Each year, students come from around the world to study medicine, nursing and public health at Yale. Over the past three decades, many have traveled far and wide from New Haven to increase their understanding of international health and to make contributions to a number of fields of study.

Last summer 17 students worked abroad on projects in Africa, China, Russia, Latin America and Malaysia, among other locations. In October, they presented their findings during the 30th annual fall symposium of the Committee on International Health. The majority of presenters were supported by the Wilbur Downs International Health Travel Fellowship Program at Yale.

In Armenia, George Melikian, M.P.H. ’99, studied the prevalence of HIV infection among women engaged in prostitution. Seth Goldbarg and Frederick Cobey, both of the School of Medicine’s Class of 2001, traced the causes of cryptosporidium infections in a village in the highlands of southwestern Ethiopia. And in Romania, Michelle Davis, M.S.N. ’99, made an assessment of the conditions in which orphaned children live.

Other students described studies of HIV transmission among pregnant women in Puerto Rico and HIV counseling and testing in Uganda. Projects displayed on posters in the Laboratory of Epidemiology in Public Health building reported on organ transplants in Armenia, pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular risk factors in Cameroon, hantavirus in Malaysia, hookworm in China, HIV in Russia, the availability of contraceptives among Cambodian refugees in Thailand, and gene therapy research in St. Kitts and Nevis.

The program, founded in the 1960s, began to receive regular funding in the 1980s, when it was renamed in honor of Wilbur Downs, M.D., an expert on tropical and infectious diseases and a Yale professor who believed students should learn by doing. One of the major lessons students learned was that logistical barriers are often the most formidable.

In Uganda, for example, Mr. Cobey and Mr. Goldbarg studied a highlands village of 3,000 people where the distance to a government-run clinic and cost of treatment limited access to health care. The Ugandan government’s refusal to let Mr. Cobey take blood samples stymied his efforts in a second project to gauge the prevalence of malaria.

Students whose proposals are accepted by a committee of about two dozen representatives of various disciplines receive round-trip airfare, emergency medical evacuation insurance and a $500 stipend. In addition, the program pays for any immunizations they might need. Sponsors on the faculty help students arrange contacts in the host country. Acceptance into the program also allows students to seek a $2,500 grant from the office of student research. About 24 students apply each year and grants are awarded based on the amount of funding available and the quality of the applications.

A reunion of past Downs Fellows is planned for June 4 during Alumni Reunion Weekend at the medical school.

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