July 26, 2012
By Megan Pelter
Oxford University, the oldest University in the English speaking world, is a hub of intellect and a once in a life time experience. Medieval buildings stand shoulder to shoulder with modern structures and create a landscape where excellence of academia comes together with the universe of science and Harry Potter world. Coming to Oxford has been a surreal experience for me. I joined a group of 20 students from USC for a Global Health course this summer. Throughout the campus there are jewels of world heritage; the Bodleian Library, Christ Church college, the architectural masterpieces of the Sheldonian theatre and Radcliff Camera, the botanical gardens and so much more. We have visited these places, including a weekend trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon – Shakespeare’s birthplace. The course is a premed course taught by Oxford professors that brings to us the understanding of serious health issues facing the world. We are learning from some of the best scientists in the field of health prevention and global health. Looking up at the dreaming spires that stand proud and tall in the sky, I truly realized how lucky I am to attend a class at a university such as this. However, as we continuously learn in class, not everyone has the same opportunities that we have.
The classes have not only fascinated me, but also caused me to realize the full extent of the problems behind many of the epidemics that run rampant in the world. Most of it does not even have to do with medicine directly, but more with social, political and economical standards of poor countries in the world. It has a lot to do with the cultural beliefs and the dominance of community understanding and traditions. One aspect in particular was the focus on malnutrition. Malnutrition is a general term to describe the inadequate intake or variety of foods. Deficiency can be macro (fats, carbohydrates or protein) or micronutrients (vitamins). About one in ten people on earth suffer from chronic malnutrition, and are predominantly in developing countries. These countries already struggle with productivity and economic related concerns. Malnutrition adds to this problem through increase health care burden, decreased productivity from bodily growth retardation and reduced mental and physical functioning. It also contributes to many diseases. As Dr. Rai, a Rhodes Scholar who researches HIV said, “malnutrition is like HIV; it weakens the immune response and allows infections to spread.”
Though I had known that malnutrition had severe consequences, I had not realized the full extent of its deadliness. Dr. Sullivan’s (The head of pediatric department, gastroentologist and a professor at the Magdalen College at Oxford) lecture on malnutrition also demonstrated how lack of food and supplies can cause the deaths of thousands of people. “Care”, he said, “starts before birth. If the mother is underweight and cannot get the vitamins needed for the fetus, the child is more likely to die young, grow up deformed, or vulnerable to opportunistic infections.” One of these deficiencies which contribute greatly to neurological disorders is iodine deficiency. These disorders can result in; miscarriages, prenatal mortality, congenital abnormalities, mental retardation, deafness and others. What is astonishing is that the main treatment of these complications is adding iodine to table salt (universal salt iodization). The cost of this is less than five cents per person per year! There can be relatively simple cures for malnutrition, such as iodizing salt, supplying iron tablets, promoting breastfeeding, prenatal care and much more.
These are very simple things that can have a huge impact. The question is if these solutions are so simple, why isn’t anyone doing anything about it? Why spend so many millions of dollars on providing treatment for diseases that can be prevented by good nutrition?
These questions will continue to revolve in my mind as we continue to explore Oxford University. Though I am very much enjoying my time at Oxford, I will still continue to think about all the things we have learned. And, when I have returned to the US, where, as Dr. Sullivan says, I will never have to truly worry about where (and when) the next meal will come from, I will think about this class and remember all the things that I have learned here.
Megan Pelter is a senior majoring in Biology.
By Judy Haw
USC Dornsife’s Problem Without Passport BISC 428 (The Biology of Tropical Medicine) course enters its second year this summer at Oxford University amidst the excitement for London’s 2012 Olympic gala! We have 20 clever student participants each with an interest in a medical career.
As I packed my suitcase to travel back to Oxford, I was grateful for the sense of experience that I knew I would accompany me this time. Though the course was a success for it’s initial run, we were faced with a number of challenges. As I write, the course is smoothly entering its second week. Experience is indeed a good teacher!
One tremendous enhancement to the program this summer is the inclusion of Dr. Erin Quinn as the program faculty member. She is the Associate Dean at the Keck School of Medicine and her familiarity with medical practices and conditions has enabled us to engage in thoughtful discussions each afternoon reflecting on the topics covered in that morning’s lectures.
As last summer, the course revolves around daily lectures given by multiple physicians and professors associated with Oxford University. All are experts in their chosen filed of tropical medicine. Each has spent considerable time in various African or Asian countries where malnutrition and maladies such as malaria, cholera, HIV or tuberculosis are rampant. They invited us to mentally examine medical practices and problems outside of our “western-medicine” comfort zone. The reflections using these perspectives, are giving the students a greater sense of the vast scope of these dilemmas.
In the afternoons, our classroom expands to the city of Oxford and the 38 colleges that comprise the University. We have toured the Bodleian Library which houses books from as early as the 11th century. We have seen the home and now library of Dr. William Osler who was one of the four founding professor of Johns Hopkins Hospital. We have perused the collections on display in the Ashmolean, Natural History and Pitts River Museums. We have visited the favorite haunts of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Bill Clinton and USC’s own Pat Haden. The weekends allow us to further expand our studies geographically. This past weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon gave us a look at Shakespeare’s time period and we took in modern rendition of The Twelfth Night at the Royal Shakespeare Theater. This coming weekend looks to hold an Olympic experience for the students.
We have learned that not all of our stereotypes of British culture are accurate as the food has been smashing and the weather brilliant!
The following blogs written by the students are meant to share our experiences while giving the students an opportunity to reflect on a topic presented in our lectures.
Judy Haw is director of the USC Dornsife Supplemental Instruction program. She is also the associate director of the Freshman Science Honors Program.