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Uganda project inspires global health focus

Kay Beach had her mind set — she was going to Uganda. But the passion that fueled her independent research study there took her in a direction far from what she had originally imagined.

For more than two years, Beach had served as president of the Northeastern University chapter of Invisible Children, a national nonprofit aiming to spread awareness about a 25-year conflict raging in Northern Uganda.That experience inspired Beach, a senior majoring in international affairs, to study the causes and effects of this conflict on the ground. But as she delved more deeply into researching her journey, her focus shifted toward analyzing the access to health services and health education in urban Uganda.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to tread into waters that I didn’t really know, and that’s how the health aspect of all of this started,” said Beach, referring to her focus on health. She and fellow student Alexander Wright, a junior majoring in economics, were awarded an Undergraduate Provost Research and Experiential Learning grant to fund their six-week research trip this past summer.

Wright’s individual project analyzed the treatment costs cancer patients face in Uganda, while Beach looked at other kinds of access issues. Beach’s research proposal was supervised by Dr. Lori Gardinier, program director in Human Services.

While in the capital city of Kampala, Beach surveyed 200 people from the Uganda Cancer Institute, two area health centers and an urban slum called Katanga. In addition to collecting personal and demographic information, Beach asked about how well they understood health, where they learned about health, how often they visited a doctor and how far they traveled to reach the nearest health facility. She also asked whether they have been diagnosed with long-term ailments, and what their greatest challenges were to accessing health care.

Upon her return to the United States, Beach wrote a paper that analyzed this data and incorporated her own observations and outside research. The paper was part of an independent study under Kimberly Jones, assistant academic specialist in the International Affairs program.

Her research analysis also included recommendations for the Uganda Cancer Institute, given not only its stature in the region but also its status as an isolated health center. Beach’s recommendations focused on maximizing the institute’s resources and strengthening its ability to reach cancer patients and spread knowledge about cancer prevention and treatment throughout Uganda.

This experiential learning opportunity ultimately sparked an interest in studying global health policy, and Beach said she plans to apply to public health schools after graduation in the spring. “It definitely has a lot to do with what I did in Uganda,” she said.

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