‘Catching’ the global health bug
For MPH alum Amy Becker LaFrance, this contagion is a good thing.
By Amy Becker LaFrance
The police officer at the Ouagadougou International Airport visa counter was reviewing my application last February and asked in French, “Madame, what is your profession?”
“Public health,” I replied. She cocked an eyebrow and said, “That is not a profession.” Her disdain was clear even though French is my second language. I tried again, saying I was the country director for a U.K.-based nongovernmental organization called Development Media International that is conducting a mass media-based child survival project in Burkina Faso. Finally, she let me enter the country.
Even in my native English, this work can take some explaining.
My path to Burkina Faso started with my MPH degree. I studied and wrote about infectious diseases. This helped me to appreciate how all health is interconnected, especially today. A downside of affordable plane travel, imported foods, and trendy household pets is that germs from anywhere in the world can affect us more easily now than ever. “Global health” might sound exotic, but it is a part of everyday life, no matter where we live.
The SPH global health classes set me to dreaming. The instructors had worked all over the world, and their projects sounded challenging, fulfilling, and fascinating. When I was offered the opportunity to work in Burkina Faso, I took it.
My current job has similarities to my U.S. public health work. I’m managing a team focused on reaching people with life-saving information. We will develop entertaining, behaviour-changing announcements and create interactive radio programs with health themes.
My co-workers teach me new things about this amazing place every day. And instead of a leisurely bike ride along the Mississippi, my morning commute now may include jaywalking cattle herds, donkey carts, runaway sheep, swarms of scooters, wrongway bicycles, and witch doctors hawking cure-alls. If that sounds more fascinating than off-putting, let me offer a diagnosis: You may have already been bitten by the global health bug.
Amy Becker LaFrance (MPH ’06) worked at SPH as a project director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) and as an instructor for International Project Planning and Management.