Behind the Scenes of TBB Curriculum: #3 Public Health

If you missed the first blogs of our series, Behind the Scenes of TBB Curriculum, we encourage you to go back and read them both:

We will now explore Thinking Beyond Borders’ third curricular unit on Public Health.  TBB’s Global Gap Year Program is the only program which offers this curricular unit due to the length of the program. So why is public health even an important area of focus on our program?

Access to quality healthcare and medicines vary widely throughout the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, there are complex challenges which have made combating diseases more difficult than in other parts of the world.  The human impact of these diseases is undeniable, but their socio economic impact is also severe.  Some diseases like HIV, TB and Ebola often affect people in their most productive years. Many countries, particularly in the developing world, have seen a rapid spread of disease, millions of deaths, and the virtual collapse of local communities that are now stripped of a generation of teachers, doctors, nurses, and farmers. To understand the devastating effects of widespread disease requires a contextual understanding of the challenges associated with the transition from a postcolonial society to nationhood, the development of physical and social infrastructure, and the relationship between disease and poverty.

In this unit we push our students to identify common assumptions about the needs of the chronically and terminally ill, public health policy, and the relationship between poverty and public health. Through daily fieldwork with the local clinics, students gain an appreciation of the challenges specific to the Kumasi region of Ghana. Readings and seminars push the group beyond common perspectives on intellectual property rights of drug companies, who is responsible for treating the ill, and the historical influence of colonialism in the contemporary struggle for development and equity. This unit is unique from the previously discussed units in that is dives a bit more explicitly into social change theory and international development topics such as the effects of international aid. Questions explored in the unit include:

  • Why is Public Health Infrastructure a Challenge in the Developing World?
  • How Is Mental Health Perceived in Ghana?
  • How does Society Change?
  • How does money influence public health initiatives?

So what did our 2018/19 Global Gap Year students take away from this curriculum?  Below are some of their takeaways and questions:

  • Nothing is happening in a vacuum. All social movements inform and influence each other.
  • In what way do malaria and poverty exist in a cycle of perpetuating each other? How does malaria strengthen the distinction between those that are in those that are not in poverty?
  • Flooding an economy with aid/free stuff can really have adverse effects on the local economy. Often the beneficiaries are the aid givers and it is their livelihood.

Having drawn on the works of international figures like Paul Farmer with Partners in Health, African authors like Dambisa Moyo, and local leaders working everyday to serve their communities, TBB students walk away from this unit with burning questions which are the products of critical engagement.  They can then bring these valuable insights into how the public health sector impacts individuals and societies around the world with them to college.

Are you interested in International Relations, International Development, Public Health, Philanthropy, Mental Health, Decolonization or Social Change?  This just might be the unit for you.