Spotlight - UCSD Student Group: The Global Brigades

Brigades

Chris Ha with Honduran Children

Brigades

Using a latex glove with drawn in “teeth” on the fingers and gums, students on the Dental Brigade show a child how to floss between teeth.

Brigades

During the brigades, students are involved in many different activities throughout the week. Here, students are building a water resource for a small community in Honduras.

Brigades

Brigadiers in Honduras teaching in a classroom to young children and adults in the community.

The Global Brigades is an organization that strives to be the largest student-led movement for global health and development globally. Global Brigades began in 2003 with only one group—the Global Medical Brigade—and expanded over the years to include a wide breadth of disciplines in Business, Law, Medical, Water, Environmental, Dental, Architecture, Public Health, and Microfinance Brigades. From its modest roots as one student group at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the group has grown to 110 university chapters from North America and the United Kingdom.

“If I cannot drive to volunteer then I will fly to volunteer,” says Revelle College fourth year student Chris Ha of her excitement to volunteer and pave her way to help others. Since high school, Ha has always valued the importance of volunteer work and global public health. Four years ago, as a freshman working in a lab, a graduate student told her about the work of the Global Brigades and the beginning of a chapter on the UCSD campus. She joined the group in earnest and has not looked back. Aside from her activities with the Global Brigade, including serving as the US Director of Health Programs, Ha is majoring in Biology and Philosophy, minoring in Political Science and is currently the president of the UCSD Biological Sciences Student Association.

Global Brigades is a collaborative effort of secular international service programs in Panama and Honduras. The programs in Panama focus on sustainable development and consist of microenterprise support, human rights advocacy, sustainable architecture and environmental preservation. Honduras is the second poorest country in this hemisphere with 70% of the population living in conditions of extreme poverty. In Honduras, the Brigades uses a developed comprehensive health model consisting of clean water projects, public health education, sanitation infrastructure, mobile medical clinics, and dental relief.

Each student-led campus group maintains their autonomy while adhering to the goals of the Global Brigades organization, acting on their own constitution, organizational structure, and bank account. The Global Brigades’ directors and advisers work closely with each group’s student leaders to share knowledge, develop skills, and to ensure effective program implementation on campus.

Working closely with Global Medical Brigades since 2006, Ha became the only undergraduate on the organization’s executive board for the trip and took the helm as president the following year. She worked closely with the previous US Medical Brigades Program Director and was offered the position of president soon after. Ha is currently the National U.S. Director of Health Programs for the Global Brigades and established the Global Brigades Executive Board at UCSD, which encompasses the current umbrella model housing all disciplines. Ha explains the umbrella model saying, “By advocating a holistic framework not only in the work that we do as an organization but as social entrepreneurs and young leaders, I wanted to find a way to collectively bring the Health Brigades’ brigadiers, universities, fellows, and coordinators alike towards understanding that global health is multidisciplinary.”

Ha recently started the first nation-wide Global Brigades Fellowship to encourage graduates and undergraduates to get more involved in the health systems of the United States, Panama, and Honduras. Last September, 17 fellows were selected from many backgrounds and parts of the United States.

Ha hopes to begin planning and groundwork for a surgical operating room in conjunction with the clinic in Nuevo Paraiso, Honduras, next to the orphanage that Global Brigades sponsors. Due to current capacity and facility constraints with the mobile clinic model that is currently in use, any medical care is limited to primary care. “The next step is a surgical referral system,” Ha says. In recent years, there has been increased development and implementation of telemedicine in developing countries. Telemedicine is a rapidly growing application of clinical medicine where medical information is shared via phone or Internet for the purpose of consulting, and sometimes remote medical procedures or examinations. The application of telemedicine would mean higher interaction and access to medical knowledge and expertise from abroad. “Telemedicine is one solution to the shortage of surgeons in rural and remote areas in the world that I deem very innovative and effective,” Ha says, “This would hopefully provide an outlet for our Community Health Worker program and also develop a solid model for technology that will help provide better quality patient care.”

The number of UCSD undergraduates, medical and pharmacy students who participate in Global Brigades is growing exponentially year after year. Since 2006, participation in Global Brigades has grown threefold and the group hopes to expand further with each Brigade. The next trip will bring approximately 100 students from UCSD’s undergraduate, medical and pharmacy students to Tegucigalpa, Honduras with four different health brigade programs. In addition, Brigades’ development groups will be heading to Panama.

For more information on the Global Brigades, please visit http://www.globalbrigades.org.

For information on Global Brigades at UCSD please contact Chris Ha (chha@ucsd.edu).

For more information about the UCSD Telemedicine program, please visit: http://telemedicine.ucsd.edu.

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