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Introducing a new cohort of UC Berkeley Global Public Health Fellows

33 students from around the world and the U.S. are part of 2021 cohort

The UC Berkeley School of Public Health is excited to welcome our 2021 cohort of Global Health Fellows.

The program was piloted in 2018–19 as the Gilead Fellowship for the Advancement of Global Public Health and initially included five international fellows. Now dubbed the UC Berkeley Global Public Health Fellowship, the program will support a total of 33  fellows in 2021 and is made possible by a generous $1.4m gift from Gilead Sciences, alongside funding from the Morris Family Foundation and Amy Brakeman and Ed Brakeman.

This year’s class of fellows includes 17 international and domestic graduate fellows who are students in our residential MPH and DrPH programs and 16 MPH students in the online/on-campus program who hail from eight countries, including Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Haiti, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. Each fellow receives a $40,000 fellowship stipend package ($20,000 per year) to support two years of studies.

“Gilead is proud to have supported the first cohort of five fellows from Brazil, Nicaragua, Cameroon, Malawi, and Uganda, who are now well-trained public health professionals with the knowledge and skills to address the current COVID-19 pandemic response of their home countries and globally,” said Merdad Parsey, chief medical officer at Gilead Sciences. “It is important to continue to elevate these programs and we are honored to be a part of UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s efforts to help address global health needs.”

Previous fellows have gone on to work with the COVID-19 corps at the CDC Foundation; launch a health nonprofit in Uganda; work for the Sustainable Sciences Institute; be active in the COVID-19 response in Brazil; and be nominated for the National Society of Leadership and Success.

“The students in our Global Public Health Fellowship program reflect the diversity of the populations that Berkeley Public Health serves worldwide, both locally and globally,” says Hildy Fong Baker, executive director of the UC Berkeley Center for Global Public Health. “We have an amazing opportunity to train this very talented group of graduate students as part of our global public health community, and we know they will make a difference. It is our most diverse group ever, and it is very exciting to think of the reach they will have in research, policy, and practice.”

Current fellow Bikare Siraw, MD, is pursuing a MPH in epidemiology. After graduating from medical school in his native Ethiopia in 2016, Siraw worked as a primary care physician in the northern Ethiopia town of Lalibela, world famous for its stunning rock-hewn churches, carved in the 12th and 13th centuries.

“A rural area surrounds that ancient town [Lalibela] and there is one hospital serving 150,000 people, with every health center feeding into it,” Siraw said. “It is a resource poor area. There were just six physicians when I went there right out of medical school.”

Siraw noted that people he saw during his visits to rural health clinics had infectious diseases that easily could have been prevented or taken care of at an earlier stage.

“Had we had effective prevention measures in the places they live, they wouldn’t have developed the diseases they had,” he said. One patient in particular stands out for Siraw. “There was this man who came in with congestive heart failure.  Four people came carrying him on a gurney and they told me they had been traveling all day to get to the clinic.”

“He had heart disease, caused by, anemia caused by a hookworm infestation,” said Siraw. “It was something that should not have happened in the 21st century. I thought, for every patient that comes to my clinic, there will be three or four that can’t come to the hospital. And that’s why I came to  public health. In public health you can get to a lot of people at once.”

Siraw hopes his training in epidemiology will help him bring back that preventative, population-wide mindset to his work in Ethiopia after completing a residency in internal medicine and fellowship in infectious diseases here in the US.

Another current fellow, Gabriela Perez-Garcia, originally from Texas and working toward her MPH in epidemiology and biostatistics, was inspired on her journey to public health by the work of her father, a physician who works with premature babies.

But like Siraw, Perez-Garcia was more interested in preventative health than treating individuals. “I realized that the medicalization of health didn’t call to me as much as combating the core causes,” said Perez-Garcia. “If you don’t treat the core, these health outcomes will still happen. Epidemiology is population health and that really interested me. I like having a very broad impact.”

“At the core, I enjoy the community work and the community-based approach of public health and that’s what I’d like to do in the future,” said Perez-Garcia. “What interests me is how infectious diseases occur in immigrant communities. Working with these communities to see how these health outcomes might differ is my future career interest.”

In addition to financial aid, the fellowship also includes summer field placements at nonprofit organizations, private companies, health care providers, and governmental organizations and mentorship and career guidance throughout the program. Fellows are linked with advisors based on their research and career interests. Formal mentorship, a peer learning exchange, and funding opportunities continue beyond fellows’ completion of their MPH.

“While each fellow may have different interests and goals, we know that each and every one of them shares a desire to improve public health in low-resource settings around the world,” says Baker. “We want the fellows to find ways to satisfy their intellectual curiosity, explore new ideas and opportunities, and to embark on a journey to make a public health impact in communities of need.”