Creating Vectors for Transmission of Knowledge to Combat NTDs

Students from around the world wrote essays as part of their application for leadership positions with END7 for the upcoming academic year. Two students were awarded scholarships to attend the Millennium Campus Conference in Washington, DC. We are publishing the best essays on our blog during the Millennium Campus Conference this week. Scholarship winner John Lu of Duke University (Durham, North Carolina) wrote this essay in response to the prompt “How do you think students and young people can be agents of meaningful change contributing to the fight against NTDs?:”

By John Lu
Duke University

We live in an age of Facebook-level involvement. Supporters are willing to click for a cause, but often times, they are not willing to do much more. Involvement is a spectrum, and the actions lying along the spectrum are not created equal.

Facebook likes are the epitome of “high ease, low engagement” involvement in a cause. I have changed my Facebook profile and cover photos to images related to NTDs, earning hundreds of likes. These likes create a sense of popular support behind NTDs (and an elevation in my self-esteem), but few if any of my friends liking my photos will become more likely to be further engaged with future NTD-related efforts.

Petition signatures and fundraising fall in the middle of the involvement spectrum – moderate ease, moderate engagement. Students asking for petition signatures and tabling to raise funds are certainly empowered to do such activities again in the future. Likewise, those signing the petitions and donating the money are certainly predisposed to contribute their signature or pocket change again.

At the same time, both levels of previously described involvement presuppose the existence of highly engaged members who would be involved in the first place. But why would the rational student spend their ultimate nonrenewable resource—time in college—on NTDs when there are so many other issues vying for the student’s attention? Who is to say fighting NTDs is any more worthwhile than waging war against cancer or campaigning for freedom of speech?

Finally, at the high end of the involvement spectrum lie research and education. They are low ease but high engagement activities, and this high engagement creates “vectors” that infect their contagious enthusiasm into those at other engagement levels. In this way, the research project that my fellow Duke student Phil Reinhart roped me into freshman year sparked my interest in NTDs.

I became interested in NTD research for its potential impact, and my research has done just that. When I presented my schistosomiasis research poster at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health conference in April, I met a Tanzanian official working at the Ministry of Health, who commented that he would contact another colleague working on the Tanzanian NTD Control Program about my findings on the high prevalence of schistosomiasis. A month later, all school-aged children in the village of Sota and the broader Lake Zone of Tanzania were given praziquantel for schistosomiasis by a government-run mass drug administration. Exactly one year before, I was in Sota meeting with the village chief asking for permission to begin my research there.

In reality, my research probably contributed only a little to the Ministry’s decision to launch its NTD campaign, for I am certainly not the first to report the high levels of schistosomiasis prevalence in communities surrounding Lake Victoria (Lonely Planet even warned against swimming in the bilharzia-infested waters). But I believe my research had a great value for an entirely different reason: it made me invested in the NTD movement. I discovered why I cared about NTDs. In turn, I sought out new avenues for engagement, such that now I am justifiably a “vector of transmission” of NTD knowledge—I created and taught Duke’s first for-credit course focused on NTDs this past semester.

I have spent my past year as an END7 student leader attempting to help other students discover why they should care about NTDs. Of the eight students that I taught in my NTD course, two will co-teach the course again with me next semester, and another was just drafted to the Los Angeles Lakers NBA team as the #2 draft pick of 2016. Out of the partnership Phil and I created between our schistosomiasis project and GlobeMed@Duke, four students will spend two months each in Tanzania implementing the schistosomiasis educational and promotional materials this summer. Future students who submit to the Duke Global Health Review will be incentivized to conduct research and produce papers on NTDs by the section reserved solely for NTD-related papers.

Creating these vectors for transmission will not dramatically increase the number of petition signatures collected or amount of money raised at Duke in the short-term—the time spent investing in human capital could have been spent on reaching these specific goals—but it will create a sustainable campaign that generates dividends long after I graduate. In quantifying involvement, we typically resort to measuring short-term transactional indicators, such as signatures on a petition. Instead, I focus on measuring the long-term fundamentals via the quality of people involved. If we are ever going to end the seven most common NTDs, we need to play the long-term game. We need to invest in human capital.

Students becoming agents of change is an inherently desirable process—we all want to make the world a better place. However, without outside guidance, students rarely become those agents of change. In chemistry, we call this a thermodynamically favorable but kinetically unfavorable reaction. The solution in chemistry is to bring in a catalyst to lower the activation energy barrier. I believe a similar solution can be prescribed for creating agents of change: we need students to lead the process of creating opportunities for their peers to engage.

This is a philosophy, not a prescription, for change. It will guide how I raise awareness and recruit new students to join END7 at the Millennium Campus Conference: I hope to launch an online photo campaign documenting END7 student leaders’ and employees’ stories of how they became involved with the effort to control and eliminate NTDs. Stories communicate vulnerability. Stories inspire. Stories help others discover why they should care.

On Memorial Day, there was a New York Times op-ed about the distinction between small love and big love. Small love is what soldiers feel for their families, friends, and communities. Big love is what soldiers feel for their country, for the ideals for which they fight. We need more people with big love for NTDs. Let’s start sharing the love that we already possess.

Lu, JohnJohn Lu is a rising junior at Duke University studying chemistry, mathematics, and global health. During his sophomore year, he created and taught Duke’s first for-credit course on neglected tropical diseases. He also founded the Duke Global Health Review, an undergraduate global health journal. He has won a number of grants and fellowships to fund research on Epstein-Barr virus pathogenesis, schistosomiasis prevalence, and childhood vaccination uptake. This year, John will serve on the END7 Student Advisory Board.

This is Just the Beginning: Expanding END7 Internationally

Students from around the world wrote essays as part of their application for leadership positions with END7 for the upcoming academic year. Two students were awarded scholarships to attend the Millennium Campus Conference in Washington, DC. We are publishing the best essays on our blog during the Millennium Campus Conference this week. Scholarship winner Beth Poulton of the University of Glasgow (Glasgow, Scotland) wrote this essay in response to the prompt “How do you think students and young people can be agents of meaningful change contributing to the fight against NTDs?:”

By Beth Poulton
University of Glasgow

My experience on the END7 Campus Leaders Council this year has been exceptional. I set up the first END7 student group in the UK and to my surprise it has been very successful. I think young people, especially students can have a real impact in fighting NTDs as we have the potential to create change in attitudes and policy – and hopefully instill others with a passion for this cause.

Universities – environments dedicated to learning and improving our society – provide many opportunities to educate large numbers of people about NTDs. They also have some of the most diverse populations in the world, enrolling students from hundreds of countries and backgrounds with a range of experiences, interests and plans for the future. Additionally, are filled with experts on a wide range of subjects who are almost always willing to talk about their work or interests. END7 at the University of Glasgow has an array of NTD experts at our fingertips due to our university’s large parasitology department, and we plan to make even more use of their expertise over the next school year.

Last semester, we held two different professor guest lectures, one by Professor Michael Barrett as an introduction to NTDs, and a second by Dr. Sylvia Taylor who discussed the seven NTDs targeted by END7 from a biological perspective. Dr. Taylor also brought along some specimen samples from the zoology laboratory for our audience to see and discussed some of the work she had done to tackle schistosomiasis on a plantation. I think these talks were very successful in highlighting the importance of END7’s mission.

In addition to professor guest lectures, next semester, I would like to plan a conference to focus on the work END7 does from a less biological perspective featuring some of the University staff who deal with global health or have had personal experience with tackling NTDs, which would be a more inclusive opportunity for students outside of the hard sciences. I think an event like this would open up the topic for discussion and allow students and staff to communicate different ideas.

I think the internet and in particular social media is one of the most lucrative tools at our fingertips, due to the potential for something typed in the UK to be viewed by thousands if not millions of people across the globe. As part of a generation that has grown up with computers and mobile phones, I think that many students have the ability to establish a real presence online for a cause like END7. This is something I have started to do this year for GUEND7. Our Facebook page has 175 likes, and sometimes our posts are viewed by over 800 people! This is just the beginning, though. We are a very new group and I would love for us to expand outside of the University of Glasgow and have an impact further afield.

When I attend the Millennium Campus Conference, I believe that I could inspire other students to set up END7 groups at their own universities as I am passionate about END7 and think I can use this to encourage others to join the fight against NTDs. I am also a fairly outgoing person who is very comfortable talking to people I don’t know, which I think would be important at a busy conference.

The students at the conference will be flooded with information about hundreds of opportunities and causes that they could be involved in, so I would look to produce a flyer with information about END7, student leadership opportunities, and website, social media and email details. I think this will allow students who are interested to learn more details after the conference and consider applying for a leadership position with the campaign.

I would also design a t-shirt and a badge to wear at the conference with END7’s logo, and think of a hashtag to use to promote END7 on my own social media throughout the week while sharing information about the conference. I think this would encourage people at the conference to ask me more about END7.

Poulton, BethAs a student myself, I can understand the pressure of choosing between many different opportunities. In recruiting students to join END7, I would try to emphasize the benefits of getting involved, like CV building, leadership development, and the opportunity to interact with students from all over the world. I think this would encourage students to undertake the responsibility of launching an END7 chapter and joining the fight against NTDs.

Beth Poulton is entering the final year of her undergraduate parasitology degree at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. She learned about END7 while researching for an essay on Mass Drug Administration last year, applied to join the END7 Campus Leaders Council, and subsequently set up the first END7 student group in the UK, The GU END7 Society. This year, she will serve on the END7 Student Advisory Board.

Hope for My Generation

Students from around the world wrote essays as part of their application for leadership positions with END7 for the upcoming academic year. Two students were awarded scholarships to attend the Millennium Campus Conference in Washington, DC. We are publishing the best essays on our blog during the Millennium Campus Conference this week. Runner-up Bailey Hilton of James Madison University (Harrisonburg, Virginia) wrote this essay in response to the prompt “How do you think students and young people can be agents of meaningful change contributing to the fight against NTDs?:”

By Bailey Hilton
James Madison University

I, for one, feel very lucky to be considered a millennial. In my lifetime I have seen technology advance from cassette tapes, to CDs, to mp3 files; and from VHS tapes, to DVDs, to streaming movies on demand. We are the first generation to take computerized tests and to learn online. We are otherwise known as Generation Y, or Generation “Why,” because we ask so many questions. I believe that my generation is the powerhouse that is going to change the world with innovation, intelligence, and forward thinking.

BaileyOn March 1, 2016, I attended the END7 Student Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. alongside forty other college students representing END7 from all across the United States. Together we met with 39 offices of U.S. senators and representatives to discuss the United States Agency for International Development’s Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Program budget. My group had a meeting with the office of Senator Diane Feinstein of California. The moment that I so vividly remember from that meeting was when the senator’s advisor told us that speaking to us about this issue we were so passionate about gave her hope for our generation, and that she felt confident that the future is in the right hands. Though she may not have fully shared our particular passion for NTDs, our meeting reinforced her belief in our generation’s ability to make a difference in our country and in the world.

After my experience at the END7 Student Advocacy Day, I am confident that if my small group could leave an impression on the most important policymakers in the U.S. government, then we can certainly make an impact on our peers back at our respective schools. After returning from Washington, I decided to get more involved in the fight against NTDs and was elected President of the Dukes Fighting NTDs Club at James Madison University.

Every student attending the Millennium Campus Conference shares a passion for being a catalyst of change within their communities, country, and the world. We all share a common goal: to make the world a better place. One of our most important talking points from Student Advocacy Day described the impact that NTDs could have on every aspect of a patient’s life: their overall health, their education, their jobs, and their families. If I were selected for this scholarship to attend the conference, I would use this talking point to create a connection between NTDs and the causes that others in attendance are passionate about. For example, if someone at the conference is attending on behalf of their organization that focuses on HIV and AIDS, I could show the relationship between treatment of NTDs and decreased risk of women contracting HIV. By bringing attention to this connection, I believe I will be able to motivate new students to join our campaign and the fight to end NTDs.

An important concept that comes into play here is reciprocal determinism, which states that our decisions can be impacted by our environment, and vice versa. This concept was very important in my Health Behavior Change class and I think that it applies well in this particular scenario. I believe that if I can create a connection between myself and others, as well as between my organization (END7 and Dukes Fighting NTDs) and the organizations that others are passionate about, together our choices will positively impact the environment (the world, and those impacted by NTDs). In turn as the environment improves, our choices will change and evolve to continue to make an impact. I believe that my vision could have widespread impact not only on the END7 campaign, but also into other issues as we all come together and work to achieve our common goal of making the world a better, healthier place for all.

To End 7 as a Millennial

Students from around the world wrote essays as part of their application for leadership positions with END7 for the upcoming academic year. Two students were awarded scholarships to attend the Millennium Campus Conference in Washington, DC. We are publishing the best essays on our blog during the Millennium Campus Conference this week. Runner-up Shangir Siddique of the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health (Houston, Texas) wrote this essay in response to the prompt “How do you think students and young people can be agents of meaningful change contributing to the fight against NTDs?:”

By Shangir Siddique
University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health

For most students, the idea of fighting against NTDs across the world seems to be a task for medical professionals, many of them MDs and PhDs, often working in large organizations such as the World Health Organization. But too often, we, as millennials, forget that many of the world’s problems will be ours to solve one day. We cannot wait for a scientist in a white lab coat to discover the cure for everything, nor can we depend on politicians to debate in marbled rooms while hundreds of lives are lost. For young minds to start off with the mentality that just because they are not “old enough” or “knowledgeable enough” they cannot achieve great feats serves not only as a hindrance to those young minds but as a disservice to the many people they could positively impact, if not save. I can speak from my own experience as a team leader for the School Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey program, a Texas-wide obesity surveillance program where we worked with young students from 2nd grade all the way up to 11th grade. We not only conducted body measurements, but we also administered an expansive survey that asked not only about their fitness and nutritional habits but that of their close loved ones. This program has been ongoing for many years, with the data collection process occurring every four years. Once all the data has been collected, it is analyzed and a report is drafted that is sent to the Texas State Legislature. The State Legislature then decides to enact new laws that promote a health-conscious environment for the students throughout Texas. The program has already had significant successes, with schools removing certain unhealthy food options from their lunches, to providing bottled water instead of sodas. It is our goal that by raising a more health conscious younger generation, we can reverse this trend of higher obesity rates we see across the nation. And to think, this was achieved by the collective efforts of young, motivated individuals who stepped up to the challenge. If we can influence the Texas State Legislature, there is nothing college students cannot achieve. It is this mentality that should motivate young people to address NTDs and propel the END7 campaign.

If I were selected for a scholarship, I would be able to spend my time at the Millennium Campus Conference not only campaigning for the END7 Campaign but taking full advantage of the audience I would have available to me. The Millennium Campus Conference attendees are individuals who are extremely interested in dedicated their lives to social work. Of those among their age group, they likely understand the difficulties associated with enacting and producing enough change to benefit the most vulnerable among us. Thus, while campaigning, I would explain how simple it is to combat NTDs. The treatments have already been discovered! All it is a matter of raising the funds necessary to bring the pills to those who need them. For many social activists, it is a lack of knowledge relating to NTDs that likely act as a barrier towards action. Once we have the opportunity to education and inform them, many will rise up to the challenge and join our campaign. For those who may remain skeptical, I would explain what life is like for the people in those countries, referencing my past visits to Bangladesh. I would explain that they lack the convenience of pharmacies around every corner, or how some villages do not have a single physician. Fortunately, the leadership and public speaking experience that I gained from teaching undergraduate laboratory courses and serving as the Vice President in my school’s student government will prove to be useful to inspiring the attendees of the conference.

Now more than ever, young people are discovering how much is at stake depending on what we do. Whether or not we take action can affect multiple issues, and in the case of NTDs, can directly impact the lives of other people around the world. My interest in NTDs may be influenced by my background in public health and epidemiology, but there remains the essential human component that drives us all to act when we see others suffering. If I am given the opportunity to attend the conference, I will make it my priority not only to campaign and educate about NTDs and the END7 campaign, but to awaken this internal drive that I am sure will be present in those who attend.

ShangirShangir Siddique is a graduate student at The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, School of Public Health, where he is pursuing a master’s of public health in Epidemiology. His research interests focus on specific disease prevalence in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the most severely underserved areas in the United States. He is also interested in global public health relating to the effects of poverty on healthcare. While an undergraduate biology honors student, he served on the Student Government Association as the vice president and held various on-campus jobs including academic tutor, research assistant, and laboratory assistant. He has also volunteered at Valley Regional Medical Center for four years and established a library in the pediatric department during his time as president of the Junior Auxiliary Volunteer Program. As part of the Early Medical School Acceptance Program, Shangir will attend medical school and eventually become a public health advocate for underserved communities.