Collaborating for Global Health: In this content series, we highlight members of our Rutgers Global Health Institute Collaborators Network.
The American Public Health Association defines public health as the science-based, evidence-backed field that promotes and protects the health of all people and their communities. This emphasis on “all people” is among the ways that public health aligns with global health, which is concerned with health equity around the world.
At Rutgers, the School of Public Health champions a commitment to equity and social justice as part of its vision for “a world in which all people have the opportunity to reach their full potential in terms of health and well-being.” The school prioritizes its global approach to health education, scholarship, and community engagement, which materializes through two of the school’s units: the Office for Global Programs and the Department of Urban-Global Public Health.
Concepts of global health are integrated throughout the school’s programming. Initiatives with international components involve the Office for Global Programs, which collaborates with the school’s academic departments, centers, and labs to develop immersive public health experiences that expose students and faculty to global cultures while promoting health and education in diverse communities. These international public health opportunities include faculty-led study abroad programs, joint courses offered in collaboration with institutions outside the United States, student exchange programs, and applied practice and capstone experiences in international settings.
The school’s Department of Urban-Global Public Health prepares students to become skilled leaders who are motivated to address the public health needs of urban and disadvantaged populations, locally and worldwide. The department offers master of public health (M.P.H.) degree programs in global public health, urban public health, LGBTQ health, public health nutrition, and social work and public health; a doctoral program; and an accelerated undergraduate-to-graduate degree program.
The school’s global programs office is led by professor and associate dean Marian Passannante, and Christine Oller is the program coordinator. Professor Leslie M. Kantor is chair of the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, and professor Vince Silenzio is director of the department’s global public health concentration.
Many more of Rutgers’ public health faculty are engaged in global health in some way, given the myriad connections between the two fields. Several have received Global Health Seed Grants to support their research on food environments in Senegal, air pollution and tuberculosis in Uganda, suicide in China, and vegetable value chains in Kenya.
“There is a lot of passion in our school for public health around the world,” Passannante says. “It’s rewarding to interact with students who want to learn more about public health systems in other countries. International exposure can broaden your insights about people, culture, diversity, and what it means to be healthy, all of which is relevant within public health.” Passannante has helped to launch partnerships with universities in Greece, resulting in the development of the study abroad courses “Food and Mediterranean Culture” and “Migration in the European Context: Challenges for Public Health,” as well as collaborations with schools in China and India.
Kantor has been at the helm of the urban-global public health department since its establishment in 2018. A champion for health equity, she recognizes that people everywhere are experiencing health disparities influenced by social, economic, and environmental factors. “There would not be health inequities if there were not power structures that privilege the few to the detriment of the broader population,” Kantor says. “Our faculty bring that awareness to their research and intervention work and partner deeply with communities to craft and implement solutions.” The department faculty’s global health-related research interests lie at the intersection of public health and subject areas including food systems, identity-based discrimination, infectious diseases, mental health, sex education, abortion, substance abuse, urban air quality, and workforce development.
Global Health Highlights
The school’s M.P.H. in global public health degree program, now available online in addition to the in-person format, educates students on how to approach determinants of global public health in a range of contexts based on five major public health perspectives: systems and policies, epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental and occupational health, and health education and behavioral science.
With around 80 students enrolled in the global public health concentration, the program is the school’s second largest. “We are very serious about having our students reflect the globe we serve in global public health,” Silenzio says, “and in doing work that reflects our global commitment.” As part of the 45-credit program’s practicum experience, student activities have included supporting community health efforts in rural Rwanda and developing state-level public health policy recommendations in New Jersey related to the health condition long COVID.
A new study abroad course is also in the works. “Public Health Aspects of HIV Prevention and Care” will take place in London, England, from January 1–13, 2024, along with pre- and post-travel coursework. Developed by the school’s associate dean for community engagement and public health practice, associate professor Rafael E. Pérez-Figueroa, the course uses an experiential learning approach and a biopsychosocial framework that emphasizes evidence-supported HIV prevention and care. Students will engage with AIDS service organizations in London and New Jersey, health care facilities, and guest speakers, all with an eye to bring an end to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, according to the school’s Study Abroad website.
Facilitating opportunities for international students and scholars at the School of Public Health is another way the school engages globally. Just last spring, the school signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Jilin University in China, paving the way for eligible students in Jilin’s preventive medicine undergraduate program to transition into an M.P.H. degree program at Rutgers.
Collaborating for Global Health
Top photo: Students in Greece during a study abroad program led by Rutgers School of Public Health.