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SEICHE Center for Health and Justice Targets Disease Education Through New Initiative with World Health Organization

September 27, 2023
by Julie Parry

Identifying innovative solutions to improve the health of people impacted by incarceration is part of the mission of Yale’s SEICHE Center for Health and Justice. On Monday, September 25, the Center announced its latest initiative to assist this historically underserved population, new programs to educate correctional health care workers on providing care for both non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes, and infectious diseases like hepatitis C.

The two self-paced courses aim to assist caregivers think through the public health best practices that can be leveraged in prison systems to reduce illness. Both courses come out of a partnership between SEICHE and the World Health Organization Health in Prisons Programme (WHO-HIPP). the infectious diseases course was also created with the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

To start, healthcare professionals in over 30 countries in the WHO European Region will have access to the educational materials. They are being hosted on Yale Coursera, a learning platform supported through the Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning.

Director of the SEICHE Center for Health and Justice Emily Wang, MD, MAS, professor of medicine (general medicine), Yale School of Medicine, and of public health (social and behavioral sciences), Yale School of Public Health, was previously involved in creating an educational course for the WHO-HIPP on caring for people impacted by mass incarceration for noncommunicable diseases in prisons. This original course, produced in 2022 was very well received, but learners identified the need for asynchronous courses which was the impetus for this new launch.

“Care delivery in the prison system is unique and often siloed from community health systems. These courses fill a unique space because much of traditional health continuing education that is disease based does not take into account the prison context, so our focus was to provide context specific guidance to improve health,” explained Lisa Puglisi, MD, associate professor of medicine (general medicine); and director of education at the SEICHE Center.

According to the World Health Organization, noncommunicable diseases contribute to 74% of all deaths globally, and incarcerated people have particularly high rates of heart disease and asthma, for example, so the partnership between the WHO and SEICHE Center makes sense.

Gauden Galea, strategic advisor to the regional director, Special Initiative on NCDs and Innovation, World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, stated, “The success of the course developed in 2022 on Innovation in NCD [noncommunicable diseases] for healthcare workers was made very clear today with the testimonies from participants from France, Ireland, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia... that stressed the impact it had on their practices, so the possibility to now expand the educational offer means we will reach more prison health care workers in more countries, whilst also covering other important educational domains, including resilience to epidemic and pandemic threats.”

According to Sunita Sturup-Toft, UKHSA, “It’s been a privilege to be asked to develop this course on the prevention and management of infectious diseases in places of detention with WHO and SEICHE. In my experience of working in prisons, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of enabling opportunities for professional development in this field. The pandemic has focused our thoughts and efforts on the threats that face our societies and how interconnected we all are. This collaboration between WHO, SEICHE, and UKHSA is a great step forward in focusing on the frontline practitioners to improve the health status of people in prison and keep our countries healthy.”

“Our focus is on leveraging research, clinical care, education and legal scholarship, and advocacy to advance our understanding of how to reduce mass incarceration. Everything we do is focused on improving the health of people who are touched by the criminal legal system, and educating providers is core to that because we must focus on care for people, not only when they are back in the community, but also while they are still inside,” said Puglisi.

Puglisi raved about the collaboration on content creation with Wang; and Jaimie Meyer, MD, MS, FACP, associate professor of medicine (infectious diseases); and Filipa Alves da Costa, public health expert consultant at WHO-HIPP and affiliated faculty, SEICHE Center; and execution and course creation with Poorvu Center’s Belinda Platt, associate director of digital education; and Sara Epperson, senior director, digital education.

“Led by Belinda and Sara, this team was able to create the first of its kind course, opening up educational opportunities for a workforce that is often overlooked in a completely open access format. We hope to expand it to non-English speakers in the future as well,” said Puglisi.

Puglisi is excited about the future of this effort, to extend its reach further into educating incarcerated people. She hopes to leverage the voices of SEICHE Center research assistants and team members who themselves have been previously incarcerated to create specific content to educate people further about their health conditions, how to advocate for themselves, and learn about what their own transitions in care should look like.

“Globally incarceration affects millions of people yearly and 80 million Americans have a criminal record, but the negative health outcomes affect not only individuals, but also their families, and entire communities. We see it as one of the largest structural determinants of health that negatively impacts community health and is often overlooked,” said Puglisi.

The SEICHE Center for Health and Justice is a unique collaboration between the Yale School of Medicine and Yale Law School to stimulate community transformation by identifying the legal, policy, and practice levers that can improve the health of individuals and communities impacted by mass incarceration. For more information on their work, visit their website.

Submitted by Julie Parry on September 27, 2023