From Sunny California to Snowy Russia!

Hello everyone! My name is Jenn Chiam, a second year M.S Biostatistics student. I am currently on my way to Ufa, Russia, where I will conduct a research project to learn more about how patients who received carotid endarterectomy, a preventive stroke operation, alter their smoking and alcohol consumption in order to reduce the risk of stroke.

First and foremost, I would like to thank the USC Institute for Global Health as well as my adviser for this project, Dr Steven Sussman who is a professor of health behavior research at USC, for offering me this wonderful opportunity to learn important academic research skills as well as to engage in international collaboration to put emerging global health problems into meaningful perspective.

Stroke is a cardiovascular disease that not only inflicts developed countries like the United States, but it has become the world’s second most common cause of death and has become increasingly common in developing regions, including Russia, India and many African nations.

Also becoming commonplace in many developing regions is the increasing consumption of alcohol and tobacco products. The emergence of growing consumer power in both middle- and low-income has been a target for big sources of revenue for the alcohol and tobacco industry. Aggressive advertisements and social acceptance of such bad habits has fueled the consumption of alcohol and tobacco products in countries that have never been historically or culturally known to be big consumers of these products in current decades. This is a major global health concern as smoking and heavy consumption of alcohol is associated with causing many diseases, including stroke.

We live in a world with many modern medical possibilities, with many life-saving drugs and surgeries constantly being invented and improved over time to help prevent and improve the outcome of many illnesses. However, I believe we sometimes tend to place more importance on these available technologies than on our own personal role in ensuring a healthy lifestyle.

Carotid endarterectomy (CEA) is a corrective operation to reduce stenosis (narrowing) of arteries supplying blood to the brain. However correcting severe stenosis does not mean one is no longer susceptible to stroke. Controlling modifiable risk factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption are still very important after these surgeries. The high prevalence of smoking and heavy consumption in Russia is one of the reasons why I wanted to conduct this study there.

With my bags packed with plenty of winter clothes, I am extremely excited about this unique research experience in the middle of a Russian winter!