By PREEYAM ROY
On Feb. 14, 50 students participated in the sixth annual USC Global Health Case Competition in which students tackled critical global health challenges. The competition was hosted by the Institute of Global Health which partnered with the medical charity Operation Smile and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. In past years, the Institute of Global health has partnered with organizations such as American Cancer Society, World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and International Medical Corps.
This year’s case challenge was based on Operation Smile’s experience in providing surgery around the world: for a week leading up to Feb. 14, teams of students determined how to improve surgical infrastructure in Nicaragua, strategizing how to maximize resources to save as many lives as possible. Students in this year’s case challenge spanned seven different USC schools.
“Because these teams have students from various schools, each team has a unique perspective to tackle the global health issue. It’s exciting to hear from other teams how they perceived the issue and devised an innovative solution,” Ashley Millhouse, a student in the Master of Public Health (MPH) Global Leadership Program, said.
This year’s winners included Milhouse along with four other teammates. She competed with two of her teammates last year: fellow MPH student Hrant Gevorgian and fellow MPH progressive degree and Human Biology student Cristina Gago. Last year, Milhouse, Gevorgian, and Gago advanced to the final round. With the addition of Master of Public Administration students Julian Cernuda and Brantynn Washington this year, they won.
According to Milhouse, the team’s overall proposed solution included “utilizing a diagonal approach focusing on building sustainable and multidisciplinary partnerships to tackle the issue with infrastructure, equipment, staff capacity, and advocacy.”
In order to address infrastructure, Gago proposed programs to recycle unused equipment from other countries, fix equipment donated by other countries, as well as “repurpose mobile storage containers as clinical pods.” In addition, Gago discussed the “idea of ‘reverse innovation’ where [a] program could host innovation competitions to find innovative solutions within Nicaragua” and elsewhere.
Gevorgian contributed ideas to “address psychosocial components of cleft palate surgery” as well as build partnerships to train health professionals in task-shifting (in which tasks are delegated to less specialized health professionals when appropriate). The team also proposed “offering a student debt relief program similar to SEED Global Health” in order to provide an incentive for “U.S. schools to participate”.
In terms of advocacy, Cernuda and Washington worked together to proposed “working with Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health to reevaluate healthcare spending” as well as creating a community advocacy coalition.
To round out the case, Milhouse “proposed certain innovative funding mechanisms” and discussed the complexity of resource limitations in Nicaragua.
“We had such a great time last year with this hands-on learning opportunity that we really wanted to participate again this year. The case prompts are challenging and provide a great experience to learn more about global health issues within many countries and organizations,” Milhouse stated of the experience. “We would highly encourage any student who is interested to participate by forming a team or joining an existing team – it’s an electric experience!”
On March 25, the winning team represented USC at the International Emory University Global Health Case Competition in Atlanta, GA, this time tackling children’s mental health in Liberia within the context of the civil war and the recent Ebola epidemic.
They competed against other students from Australia, Canada, Denmark, and the United States. After spending a week presenting their case to global health experts on addressing children’s health in Liberia, they won the entire international competition as well as $6,000.
All students who are interested in applying their interests and skills to real-world situations by participating in the next USC Global Health Case Competition can look out for information about the seventh annual competition from the Institute of Global Health next spring.