Each year, in June and November, the Global Health Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia facilitates educational exchanges in the Dominican Republic (DR) through the Global Health Allies Program. The program is open to all benefits-eligible CHOP employees who have been employed at CHOP for at least 18 months at the time of the trip. Approximately six people whose expertise fits with the particular needs of each exchange are chosen following a formal application and interview process.
Developed at the request of the Global Health Center’s partners, Niños Primeros en Salud (NPS) in the DR, the Global Health Allies Program addresses the need for quality continuing education opportunities for the program's community health workers, known as health promoters. After receiving their initial training, health promoters in the DR do not have many regular opportunities for continuing education. Therefore, CHOP is committed to offering biannual training on topics that the health promoters and their nurse supervisor, Ramona Cordero, identify as crucial health topics for their communities.
Mazvita Rankin, MPH, Senior Grants Writer for the Department of Global Medicine, participated in the June 2018 Global Health Allies trip. This is her story.
(L to R) Mazvita, Mary, Franklin, Kerry, Adriana, Albert, Ali, Irma, Ramona Cordero (NPS Nurse and Health Promoter Supervisor) and Mioced Ramirez (NPS Program Coordinator)
At 6 a.m. on the last Sunday in June, I arrived at Philadelphia International Airport to meet my peers for the June 2018 Global Health Allies week in the town of Consuelo, DR. The group included Albert Chen (Principal Creative Designer, HR), Franklin Morgan (Sr. Business Analyst, Supply Chain), Mary Helfrich (Nurse, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition), Irma Padilla-Caruth (Medical Interpreter), Alexandra Pomar (Social Worker), Kerry Spichiger (Nurse, Division of Oncology), Adriana Deverlis, who coordinates the Global Health Allies Program, and me.
We were all a little bleary-eyed, but the excitement and anticipation of being able to realize what we had been preparing for over the previous three months helped us through the long summer TSA lines.
In preparation for traveling to the DR, Adriana had facilitated three two-hour orientation sessions for our Allies team. During the first session, we spent time getting to know each other, building team rapport, and learning about the history, goals and objectives of the Global Health Allies Program. Additionally, we reviewed the 17 health topics that the health promoters had requested. From those, we each chose to prepare lesson plans for up to four topics. At the second session, we presented outlines of our lessons to our fellow group members and used their feedback to help hone the content and activities. During the third session, we completed a dry run of our lesson plans and reviewed our checklist for what to pack and how to prepare for the trip. Outside of these formal sessions, we each made a trip to CHOP Occupational Health to make sure we were up to date on all required vaccinations.
On the ground
Each day of the Allies week was divided into three segments. The mornings were set aside for classroom-style lessons for the health promoters, and after lunch, we visited one or two barrios (neighborhoods) with the health promoters and conducted community outreach events. In the evenings, we spent time together at the guesthouse where we were staying, and occasionally participated in relaxing cultural immersion activities like sampling the local cuisine and going on a sunset walking tour in the nearby city of San Pedro de Macorís.
On the first day of classroom lessons, the health promoters completed a pretest to assess their baseline knowledge. This test was repeated in a post-test at the end of the week. It was deeply gratifying to hear that the health promoters’ test scores had doubled during a single week!
“To share our knowledge and experiences in the medical field with the health promoters was of great satisfaction,” says Irma Padilla-Caruth. “They enjoyed the hands-on lessons, and put in the work to learn as much as possible so they could share their knowledge to help their neighbors in need.”
The Allies team and the community members braved the heat and humidity each afternoon to attend community outreach events. For Franklin Morgan, “It was incredibly rewarding to see the health promoters share information that we’d provided with their communities, and to see the impact that health education can have on neighborhoods like Consuelo.”
Community members wait for the preventive health activities to begin
We interacted with more than 760 community members during the afternoon outreach events, 80 percent of whom were children. We offered a number of preventive health screenings, which included weighing, fluoride application, blood pressure screening for adults, and distribution of toothbrushes and toothpaste for the children.
Making an impact
The week was rewarding for both the CHOP Allies team and the health promoters. “As a Supply Chain employee, I don’t often have opportunities to interact with the patients and families that CHOP serves. I’m grateful that this trip allowed me to contribute to CHOP’s mission in a new and unique way,” says Morgan.
“I learned so much about the subjects that I was presenting during my preparation and during the presentations to the promoters. I also learned the challenges that [the health promoters] face in their communities and the solutions that they come up with,” says Albert Chen.
For Merlin Ramirez, one of the 10 health promoters who received training from the June 2018 Allies team, everything that she learned was empowering: “You taught us how to help our communities prevent illness … This partnership is beneficial to us because, thanks to you, we can grow and help our communities.”
For me, this experience revealed that while we cannot choose where we are born and sometimes where we live, we can choose to help others who may not have the same resources and access to care that we have. I contributed by sharing health education information, but I also gained so much from this experience: I learned about and experienced the rich Dominican culture and made new friends at CHOP whom I may never have met were it not for the Allies experience.
How you can help
The CHOP Global Health Center’s vision is “healthy children worldwide.” By serving as an extension of CHOP in the world, the Global Health Allies Program continuously works toward that vision by building capacity among local providers who live and work to promote health in their communities. You can help ensure these training opportunities are accessible to future health promoters by making a gift to CHOP’s Global Health Center.