Three international Fulbright Scholars who earned their master’s degrees in Public Health from Montclair State University will be bringing back a sea of new science and learning initiatives to improve medical care and community health in their corners of the world – remote Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific, Tanzania in East Africa and Uzbekistan in Central Asia.
The Graduate School Commencement ceremony in May was the culmination of years of challenges and commitment for these Fulbright Scholars, the latest from the renowned educational exchange program to graduate from Montclair State. Each are on a path to tackling within their countries the inequities faced by the world’s sick and poor.
The scholars’ prestige back home was embodied by the attendance at Commencement of a delegation of Papua New Guinea political officials and family to celebrate the achievements of Rose Andrew, a dentist who graduated alongside doctors Samwel Marwa and Evgeniya Shalaeva.
“I have a lot to do when I get back,” says Andrew, who returned in June to the country’s Department of Health with fresh ideas on how to raise awareness of oral cancer and rapid oral HIV testing. Both are vital health issues. Papua New Guinea has the world’s highest rate of malignant mouth cancer, which Andrew says is attributed to the once sacred custom of chewing buai or betel nut. The country also has the highest HIV prevalence among the Pacific Island nations.
Andrew plans to write policy to help guarantee funding for oral health issues long neglected, especially in the rural areas of the country. It’s a passion fueled by her own experiences providing dental care to villagers who wait for hours, hundreds deep to be seen, and childhood memories of suffering by family members with tooth and gum decay.
These global health perspectives enrich Montclair State’s program by expanding the horizons and world view of students and faculty, says Lisa Lieberman, associate professor in public health. “Over the past few years, foreign medical professionals have completed the Master’s of Public Health as a path toward working with their governments or health care systems to improve practices and policies that protect the public’s health by focusing on prevention.”
The focus on social justice is particularly appealing to these doctors passionate in providing humanistic care and finding solutions to deep-rooted problems.
Marwa, the Fulbright Scholar from Tanzania, is the medical officer in charge of a referral hospital in the rural Rukwa region. He has taken a keen interest in improving the quality of care of women during childbirth, implementing changes in the maternity ward to reduce infections after delivery. It hasn’t been easy. “Everyone was singing their own tune,” Marwa recalls of his early days at the facility, “and not in harmony.”
In 2012, he met Adrienne Strong, an American Fulbright Scholar who was conducting PhD research in Tanzania. “It was clear that the hospital was really struggling with supply shortages and, especially in the maternity ward, shortage of staff.” Strong encouraged Marwa to apply for a Fulbright, cementing a friendship evidenced by the fact that Strong traveled from Tanzania to see Marwa earn the master’s degree from Montclair State.
Before coming to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar, Shalaeva worked as a cardiologist and researcher at Tashkent Medical Academy, one of Central Asia’s leading research and teaching universities. “I was constantly engaged in practical work as a physician, scientific work, health education and professional education,” she says.
Shalaeva has a strong interest in decreasing morbidity and mortality among diabetic patients in Uzbekistan. Earning the advanced degree, Shalaeva says, has given her the tools and expertise to conduct research on health-related issues and to apply health theories to improve patients’ medication compliance and lifestyle changes.
“I have skills and basic structural knowledge in research and grant writing, program evaluation and implementation, as well as advocacy campaign and policymaking,” Shalaeva says. She also added to Montclair State’s Fulbright family when she gave birth in November to a son.