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Students take up global health

It may not have the big budget of the Duke Global Health Institute, but the student-run Global Health Forum still has big plans to influence global health efforts abroad and in Durham.

The Global Health Forum, which started a few years ago but went inactive after several members graduated, re-emerged last year and is working to inform and coordinate students in global health endeavors.

"The goal of the Global Health Forum is to facilitate and foster activist responses on Duke in regards to global health issues," said junior Arnav Mehta, a member of the GHF. "We're looking to provide a means by which students on campus can engage themselves in global health activities not just here, but in the future."

All this will be managed by the GHF website's "open-content management system" that allows individual student groups to edit their own webpages, which will then feed back into the GHF's central hub, consolidating the content onto one calendar.

The website should be fully functional by the beginning of next semester, said forum member Aalok Modi, a sophomore.

"The key word is infrastructure," Modi said, pointing to the website as an important mechanism through which students, administrators and other leaders in the field could network about global health issues.

Senior Jessica Ballou, one of the forum's founders, said the GHF hopes to combine efforts with the global health organizations at other local schools, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as Duke's own Global Health Institute, which she praised for its interdisciplinary approach.

"Global health activism doesn't happen in a vacuum," Ballou said.

The website will also feature a forum, a donation facility and a wiki-style page where students can recount their experiences with global health and provide suggestions for fledgling student groups and individuals interested in global health, Mehta said.

The website will also feature a calendar that keeps track of pertinent student events on campus, he added.

After re-forming last year, the GHF combined with another global health advocacy group on campus called Project Heart, Ballou said.

"Neither of us knew the other group existed, which in and of itself is indicative of the issues that are going on at Duke-that you don't know what everyone else is doing," she said.

This miscommunication problem is exactly what the GHF tries to rectify, Ballou said.

"We have segregated resources at Duke and everyone's using them without any knowledge of what other people are doing," Mehta said. "What we're trying to do is find a way to pull people together so students can find novel ways to start projects, go abroad, fundraise."

In addition to helping other students get involved in health care issues, the members of the GHF have been engaged in global health projects of their own.

Ballou spent the first semester of her junior year in Ghana working with an AIDS hospice and advocacy organization and teaching a class on human rights to Liberian refugees. Another member of the GHF, sophomore Joe Reardon, is in Costa Rica for the semester studying global health in the context of human development and environmental protection.

"I walked past long clinic lines each day on the way to class. When we talk so much about big words like 'global health,' 'human rights' and 'social justice,' it's easy to forget about the millions of people who are affected by these terms," Reardon wrote in an e-mail.

Reardon said he hoped the GHF would trigger change and spur students to action, adding that many of the health problems affecting people in Central America and elsewhere are also prevalent in Durham.

"Duke students will be leaders in their communities wherever they go. With that role comes a great responsibility to protect the health and well-being of all people locally and globally," he said. "Increasing globalization means that health disparities anywhere have repercussions for all of us. We all have a responsibility to combat them."

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