Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Director of Peace Corps Visits Hopkins

Peace Corps Celebrates 50

Aaron Williams celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps with the first ever keynote address at the Bloomberg School of Public Health by the US volunteer program's top executive. Mr Williams, an Obama administration appointee, focused his speech on the founding message and vision of former President John F. Kennedy while providing countless examples of the strong partnership the institution has formed with the "citadel" of global health.

A simple word highlights the strongest motif that carried through the various speeches. Every person touched upon the importance of casting Peace Corps veterans as "Returned Peace Core Volunteers (RPCV)" rather than "Former Peace Corps Volunteers". The stress on returned over former focuses attention to the transformative and lasting experience that volunteers live out in their service and beyond. It is strategic branding of the finest order, but it was clear through the speakers that returned makes all the difference.

For my friends that are RPCV or current PCVs, I thought you'd find the question and answer session interesting. All three questions were from RPCVs, which made me think I should blog them for you. In order:

1. What has been the Peace Corps response to the recent negative Congressional testimony of returned volunteers regarding safety and support systems for victims of sexual abuse.

Williams skillfully handled the first question by focusing the attention on creating systems within Peace Corps to make it better. He emphasized that each person providing testimony stated their goal was to improve the institution and not tear it down. This was a point he argued the media neglected to reiterate. Lastly, he went through a litany of partnerships and outside "experts" who are working to create open channels and training on the issue.

It was clear Williams was very prepared for the hot-button question. His answer had a linear progression from level one framing of broader concepts to level three of details in place to address the issues, such as the creation of a "victim's advocate" within the Peace Corps hierarchy. His last step to highlight that all the plans are laid out on the Peace Corps website was a plus.

2. Given the current funding climate, what is Peace Corps future outlook?

Director Williams was straight from the hip in his assessment of Washington politics and the foreign aid budget, which he referred to as Budget Function 150. He expects Function 150, which includes USAID, PEPFAR, and Peace Corps to name a few, to be prime rib sent to the chopping block. However, his take home message was Peace Corps, unlike other entities in the Function 150, has bicameral and bipartisan support. Four elected officials (three Democrats and one Republican) are RCPVs and they meet with Director Williams every quarter to analyze and discuss continued funding support. He acknowledges impending cuts will curtail scheduled growth and require belt tightening, but does not envision a severe blow to Peace Corps.

I found this the most interesting part of the speech. I wonder what metrics or evaluations go into deciding which programs have the most impact per dollar spent within PEPFAR, USAID, and Peace Corps. It was clear that Director Williams thought PEPFAR and other International Affairs budgets will be disproportionately impacted by cuts simply based on the politics of Washington rather then effectiveness or results.

3. Peace Corps has seen an increase in trained volunteers over the last decades. Will Peace Corps shift away from being a place for graduating college seniors?

Director Williams stated 85% of Peace Corps volunteers are recent undergraduates. He acknowledged the growth of trained volunteers as part of the inclusive approach and high impact results of the program. He maintained that this balance of predominantly recent undergraduates will be held in the future. Interestingly, he noted an increase in former volunteers reapplying and he expects retired baby boomers to get back into the mix.

There you have it! I hope this brief overview of the speech is worth a read. I'd definitely be interested in what you thought of his responses.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Letter to the Editor published!

Letter to the Editor in New Jersey Star Ledger

As a component to my Media Advocacy and Public Health course, I submitted a letter to the editor to the New Jersey Star Ledger regarding an editorial on HIV medication patent pools. I am glad to report that not only was it published but it was the featured letter in its own gray box. Below is a copy and paste of the Letter.

Jump into the pool

The Star-Ledger May 1 editorial “To save lives, Johnson & Johnson should jump into the patent pool” presents a challenging yet vital component in addressing the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. However, it misses one essential piece of the equation: Treatment saves lives and prevents infections.

A growing body of scientific literature demonstrates consistent HIV treatment is an evidence-based form of prevention and could be effective to achieve population-level reductions in new infections. One such study, across seven African countries, enrolled 3,408 HIV-positive individuals and their HIV-negative partners with results showing transmission was 92 percent less likely if the HIV-positive person was on treatment.

The science is clear: Treatment saves lives and prevents infections. However, 10 million eligible HIV-positive individuals worldwide do not have access to treatment — a million plus more than the entire population of New Jersey.

Johnson & Johnson already runs meaningful multimillion-dollar programs protecting the environment and deworming children in Cameroon. However, if it is true to its mission statement’s commitment to provide access to its products for people in need, it should follow the lead of others in the pharmaceutical industry and take a seat at the patent pool table.

Marco Ambrosio, Livingston

Letter to the Editor - (Scroll to Bottom)
Original Article

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A special invite for World AIDS Day

I've been asked by the African Public Health Network at Hopkins to partake in a World AIDS Day panel. It is an unexpected honor given the amount of MPH students who have conducted research or worked in numerous countries on this topic.

Given the workload and upcoming finals, I will post a more proper and informative blog of the occasion during Winter break. I'm guessing a little after the New Year will do it!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Intro to Linear Regression

I stumbled upon this video last week when I was reviewing some of the concepts we are covering in biostatistics. The video is a great introduction to linear regressions, a concept that depicts the relationship between two variables. Linear regressions are a hallmark of statistical analysis and used in multiple fields that span from economics to medical research. With the biostats midterm two weeks away, I thought it could be helpful to others.