COPH students gain know-how in the City of Knowledge

| Academic & Student Affairs, COPH Home Page Feed, COPH Office of Research, Featured News, Intl Programs, Monday Letter, Our World, Take Note!

In a world that’s constantly becoming more intertwined thanks to advances in technology and globalization, the USF College of Public Health (COPH) puts a great emphasis on the study and advancement of global and international health.

Many USF students take part in a variety of study abroad opportunities offered university wide. Of interest to numerous COPH students are the multitude of courses dedicated to studying issues in global health.

Fifteen years ago, USF developed the USF Health Panama Program. The program gives students the opportunity to practice their passion for public health in a variety of settings. In collaboration with other universities, students involved in the program participate in research projects, international field experiences, seminars and courses at the City of Knowledge, the site of an old U.S. military base in Panama.

The program quickly became a mutually beneficial partnership. While serving the local Panamanian communities, the program also allowed students to become more culturally competent, and to gain practical and educational experience through study abroad and research opportunities.

“In 2004, USF signed an agreement of collaboration with the City of Knowledge,” said Dr. Arlene Calvo, a COPH associate professor, native of Panama and the program’s former director. “About two years later, we started working on a more formal basis and USF Health began a nonprofit foundation to administer funds and study abroad programs in Panama.”

The program is now making a transition where it will highlight the presence of the COPH.

To date, the program has trained thousands of students and local health professionals and is providing outreach and education to at-risk communities.

Students participating in these activities serve the local population by working with the Ministry of Health, Gorgas Memorial Institute or the National Society Against Cancer. They also provide resources to malnourished children in the country.

“We will continue to conduct research and provide field experiences and other opportunities for students in this region of Central America,” said Calvo. “We’ve contributed a lot to the field of public health through our collaborations with the Ministry of Health and biomedical research institutes, so the transition will be seamless.”

Arlene Calvo, PhD, with her daughter and children of the Emberá tribe of Panama. (Photo courtesy of Calvo)

Considerable research and training is conducted through the program with a special focus on women’s health issues and working with indigenous groups in rural areas. Dr. Calvo and her students have gotten the opportunity to work with major organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), on project topics ranging from the impact of respiratory diseases on pregnancy to reproductive issues impacted by the Zika virus.

However, students interested in other areas of public health have plenty of reasons to participate.

“Our research and field experiences cover a broad range of topics, from tropical diseases to cancer, which is the leading cause of death in Panama,” said Calvo. Students in the program consistently publish and present the research they complete at public health conferences. In fact, seven abstracts accepted by the American Public Health Association (APHA) will be presented at its annual conference in November of this year.

While the Panama Program has garnered many accolades in the realm of public health through research, training and outreach, the COPH still has much to offer the region. In order to continue to develop interprofessional leaders with a global mindset, the program hopes to develop more partnerships with schools, universities and health agencies, both locally and abroad.

“We offer our program to students from other universities and fields of study as well,” said Calvo. “This allows students to build relationships with people from different backgrounds and areas of study, and to continue working with them after they return to the United States.”

Story by Cody Brown