David Shapiro, a third-year Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine student, worked with Northwestern law and business students to address issues facing slum communities in Lagos, Nigeria, and traveled there this spring to implement a sustainable project as part of the multidisciplinary course Health and Human Rights.
Shapiro said he enjoyed learning from his law and business peers in addition to being able to share his knowledge of medicine.
“In Nigeria, while meeting with midwives to discuss delivering babies, I was able to ask more specific questions around deliveries and equipment they had, things that you might not think to ask if you hadn’t seen many deliveries,” said Shapiro, who previously completed a rotation in obstetrics and gynecology as part of his education at Feinberg.
During the course, students from Feinberg, Kellogg School of Management and Pritzker School of Law worked together on a needs assessment project called Access to Health. The class partnered with Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Lagos that empowers individuals to lead the changes they want to see in their communities.
“The project is really a community-based multidisciplinary partnership with regard to global health, human rights and development,” said Juliet Sorensen, JD, clinical associate professor of law, who directs Access to Health. She runs the project with the Center for Global Health.
In previous years, the class has worked on projects in Ethiopia, Dominican Republic and Mali.
“From an educational perspective, it’s extraordinarily important today for these disciplines not to be so siloed in the real world. I want the students to see that everyone brings their perspective and training into the project,” Sorensen said.
After communicating via Skype and email to partner communities through JEI in Lagos, students worked in groups to identify solutions to issues around water sanitation, HIV/AIDS, malaria, maternal health and family planning, emergency medicine and fire safety.
Then, Shapiro spent ten days in Lagos with five other classmates and faculty members completing fieldwork. While in Lagos, Shapiro and the team met with members of slum communities in addition to members of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health, faculty at the University of Lagos and different nongovernmental organizations.
“The community members were eager to learn about health topics, specifically about how HIV is transmitted, and ways to reduce their risk of being infected,” Shapiro said. “There was a lot of misinformation, but they had really good questions about different situations and what the risk of being infected would be.”
At first, Shapiro said he felt humbled by the experience.
“I felt, who am I to be able to offer solutions? And, can we really do that much for these communities?” he said. “As the trip went on, I felt we had more to offer them and that we had the expertise and resources so we could all work together to help with challenges in their community.”
Sorensen explained that the project also gives students experience working on sustainable development and the opportunity to learn how to respond to community feedback and adjust project goals and outcomes.
“Learning about responsiveness to the community is necessary in medicine, law and business, so it is really applicable to all three schools,” Sorensen said. “I think the students learned that progress can be slow and that an effort like this takes persistence and determination.”
From their experiences on the trip, the group realized the communities they met with needed more public health education on malaria diagnosis, prevention and treatment, family planning, water sanitation and fire safety. Now, the group is identifying curricula to share and implement within the communities they visited that can develop into training programs.
“This course and the experience in Nigeria furthered my interest in global health and in health disparities across the world,” Shapiro said.