Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Improving Public Health in Colombia – Fulbright Specialist Program Experience

Rob Simmons, DrPH, MPH, MCHES, CPH
MPH Program Director
Jefferson School of Population Health

The country of Colombia, located in the Northwest section of South America, has gone through an incredible transition over the past 15 years.  Once known for international drug cartels, major political corruption, and armed revolutionary guerillas holding the country hostage, the country has been transformed  into a politically stable democratic nation that has experienced incredibly strong economic growth. 

Colombia is projected to surpass Argentina in the next couple of years and have the third highest Gross Domestic Product in Latin America (after Brazil and Mexico). Its recent free trade agreement with the US, coupled with its strong political ties to the U.S. and Western Europe, will only increase its stature as a Latin American leader in the future.
Serving as a Fulbright Specialist Scholar, I spent four weeks in Medellín, Colombia (the country’s second largest city) this summer working with CES University (CES stands for “City of Eternal Spring”), a private health science university, to help develop its new Doctoral Program in Public Health.  

I taught a pilot five-session course that will be a precursor to a global health course for its masters and doctoral program in public health; provided faculty development education on public health policy and advocacy , chronic disease prevention, and health promotion; and developed a concept paper outlining a future collaborative research project on violence and public health to be conducted between universities in Medellín and Philadelphia.  In addition, I was able to connect with the public university in the region (University of Antioquia) and its School of Public Health to discuss future collaborative opportunities.

I also had the opportunity to meet with the Health Secretary for Medellín and the Director of Health for the state of Antioquia (Medellín is the state capital) to discuss public health challenges and planned public health initiatives. 

Like most developing and developed nations, Colombia faces significant challenges with growing urbanization that taxes the public health infrastructure and impacts environmental health, injury control and prevention (particularly automobile injuries), and health care services.  An aging population has led to large increases in chronic diseases.  There are few national policies in place to improve health, since their health care system consists mostly of private payers. 

We look forward to working with CES University, University of Antioquia School of Public Health, and the city of Medellín on future collaborative opportunities to improve the health of their population.