Ouelessebougou

Public health graduate students and faculty from the U returned from the Ouelessebougou region of West Africa on Jan. 16.

The group touched down at Salt Lake International Airport after a two-week humanitarian expedition in Mali.

Members of the team spent their time gathering data, tracking disease and looking at a myriad of public health problems facing the region of Ouelessebougou in Mali.

Participants included Prof. Stephen Alder, students Michelle Korth, Beth Henderson and Jamie Clark, Dr. Christy McCowan and Ouelessebougou Alliance members Delia Rochan and Addie Fuhriman.

“We made an unbelievable connection. The people in Mali are amazing. They can do so much with so little,” said group leader Alder, who serves as an assistant professor of family and preventive medicine and associate director of public health programs at the U.

The visit to Mali included contacting 12 villages and surveying about 2,000 people.

Service varied from teaching villagers how to purify water to education on preventative illness and injury.

“Our team went there to understand public health issues and to establish relationships with these people,” said McCowan.

“They have basic health, sanitation and disease prevention problems that the U can help out with,” she said.

An example of an investigation done was the study of vecor-related diseases-those transmitted by insects.

Mosquitoes, flies and ticks are responsible for the spread of measles, meningitis, malaria and other diseases in African villages.

Malaria alone accounts for approximately 20 percent of all young child deaths in Africa.

“Villagers’ conditions are primitive, undeveloped and rudimentary,” Alder said.

Environmental health issues also arose. Contaminated water is a major cause of disease in Mali.

The graduate students measured water and air quality and appraised disposal techniques for human and animal waste and trash.

Though many people in Mali live in primitive conditions, some problems can be solved as easily as educating them about disease prevention.

Alder says they can lessen their present conditions by “changing the way they do things without hurting their culture.”

He emphasized that this and future trips will have a lasting impact because Mali’s government wants to establish a public-health structure in the Ouelessebougou region.

Students and faculty made plans with local officials to stay in touch and follow up on progress in the region.

“This trip was not a brief visit and then we disappeared,” Alder said. “It was a textbook example of international public health cooperation.”

Public-health students have also traveled to Panama, Kenya, Peru, Ghana, Haiti, Uganda and other countries to assist with public-health activities.

However, the Mali expedition represents the first effort to study and improve a real-life public-health system.

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