I realize that it may be important and/or useful to describe what it is exactly that I am doing in Aleppo, Syria and then in Birzeit (near Ramallah) in West Bank/Palestine, and Tunis in Tunisia in the upcoming weeks. During my time in the Global Health track I have gained a great appreciation for the Eastern Mediterranean and Southwestern Asian regions. The interest is personal, as well as professional, and I am continually surprised and fascinated by the depth and complexity of the history, culture, politics, and religion of the diverse peoples who inhabit this area.
As I’m sure you all follow my every move, you are probably aware that Sonny Patel and I developed our own research project last year in which we spent a month in Istanbul investigating the transition of the public health care system in Turkey to a privatized model. It was an incredibly unique and eye-opening experience, but I realized that Turkey was not quite where I wanted to focus my career. Ever since Istanbul I have been planning for my return to the Middle East and had originally decided to look into completing my practicum in Beirut, Lebanon. However, in speaking with Dr. Heather Wipfli last summer, she brought to my attention a new European Union-funded project studying and modeling cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, directed in part by a former colleague of hers, working at the Syrian Center for Tobacco Studies. Hearing this, I was understandably intrigued and upon learning that three of the other sites were in Turkey, Palestine, and Tunisia, I was in love. I signed on immediately and started sending the many, many emails it would take to confirm my stay at all four sites. So here I am.
As will be described in the upcoming video series explaining more about MedCHAMPS, the study involves several “work packages”, which involve both qualitative and quantitative data gathering and analysis. The goal of the project is to address the emerging issue of non-communicable disease in low-middle income countries (specifically in the four mentioned) and to improve the health of these populations by reducing the burden of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and diabetes. The overall objective is to achieve this goal through the development of culturally appropriate policy initiatives, both inside and outside the health sector.
These specific countries were chosen to participate primarily because they all have a large portion of the population who is affected by CVD and diabetes. However, they also share a number of additional attributes which makes studying them together appropriate. All four countries have sufficient data on both conditions that is available for model development, they are socioeconomically, ethnically, and geographically diverse, they all share a similar religious bond, and have several of the same risk factors in common, namely obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and tobacco smoking. That last one is indeed a major problem. Having to spend time in cafes to write, I can tell you that Syrians smoke nearly as frequently as they breathe. With the U.S. as the land of the smoker-as-social-pariah, it is amazing to realize just how far we have come with near-eradication of public tobacco use. Here, unless you are outside, you must sit in a cloud of cigarette or narghile (hookah) pipe smoke.
However, I am merely an outsider and will leave it up to the incredibly hard-working, passionate, and driven individuals with whom I work to provide the details for what currently plagues the health situation in Syria. Over the next several posts I will provide brief interviews with the people that are most intimately involved with the MedCHAMPS project and who also all pull double-duty with the Syrian Center for Tobacco Studies (and often a third or fourth job). Please feel free to send me your questions and/or comments and I will happily answer as best and as quickly as I can. Thank you for reading and enjoy!