WVU faculty members, students encourage better health throughout the world

Projects include helping Vietnamese girls avoid enslavement

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Leading students on trips to Vietnam and Cambodia over the past four years, Susan Newfield, Ph.D., of the West Virginia University School of Nursing has come face to face with the ugliness of sex trafficking.

Young women escaping brothels may receive help from members of nongovernmental organizations working in the region. But many of those helpers fail to understand the nuances of Asian culture.  For instance, one program offers transitional housing to young women rescued from brothels.

“They lose status in their community after having worked in brothels,” Newfield explained to a crowd attending talks that showcased WVU Health Sciences’ international outreach efforts today (Oct. 14) at the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center. “So it’s very hard for them to come back and be reputable women again.”

Newfield works with the organizations to elevate their skill levels, making outreach efforts more effective. She takes WVU students on three-week trips to Southeast Asia, giving students a multicultural perspective, allowing them to see first-hand some of the problems they discuss in class. The students visit social-services agencies and also helping with the training mission.

“The people who work in nongovernmental organizations have incredibly big hearts. But they have no formal training in social services,” Newfield said. “We have offered them capacity building.”

Through her efforts WVU has formed relationships with eight universities in Southeast Asia and also with the Vietnamese government’s education bureaucracy.

Newfield was joined by representatives from WVU’s Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry who described their travels and efforts to offer better healthcare and improve education throughout the world.  The theme was “One World, One WVU.”

Such outreach efforts also contribute to better educational experiences for WVU students. For instance, Gordon Keyes, D.D.S., of the School of Dentistry leads trips to Guatemala to entice dental students to fall in love with the country so they will return to volunteer their services after graduation.

The students not only travel to schools and to remote areas to perform tooth extractions and infection control for people in pain, but they also journey deep into the jungle canopy, enjoy the vista of volcanoes and the beauty of deep lakes.

“They students are not just providing a service, but they are also getting a broader perspective of the people and their lifestyle,” Keyes said.

Another speaker, Richard Geary, a second-year medical student and officer in the Students for Global Health Club, described other organizations that need support. Circa Terra is an organization that collects medical and surgical supplies and ships them to other countries, for instance. Another project is to collect textbooks and send them to overseas medical schools.

Other examples of global outreach from the Health Sciences Center include:

  • medical care provided in Ghana
  • pharmaceutical sciences research collaborations with universities in China
  • visiting professorships in Cairo
  • outreach support in dealing with autism in Australia
  • a formal visiting student program with Oman

Photo caption: Susan Newfield, Ph.D., of the West Virginia University School of Nursing describes WVU’s efforts to improve the level of social services in Southeast Asia.  Photo by Bob Beverly.
WVU’s Global Health Program organized the talks. For information on the program see http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/som/tropmed/index.asp.



For more information:
Andrea Brunais, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
El/ab: 10-14-08

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