University of Washington Department of Global Health students won top awards in the Lancet-Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) student research competition held at the CUGH conference in New York, March 16-18. The international conference brought together over 1800 people from academia, NGOs, government and the private sector. Participants explored how to strengthen efforts to address the increasing gap in health disparities between the poor and middle class, and the rich, which continues to grow and threatens to undermine the gains in development over the last few decades.

Kate Simeon, a medical student at the UW School of Medicine at the Alaska WWAMI campus, won the top award in the implementation science category. She presented research of a costing analysis examining costs of tests used to monitor HIV positive patients who are receiving antiretroviral therapy—medications for the treatment of HIV. This research compared the costs of new testing methods that have the ability to be performed at the location of the patient (point-of-care or POC tests) with costs of tests performed at centralized laboratory facilities in Durban, South Africa. This research was conducted alongside the researchers and clinicians at the CAPRISA research facility in Durban.

Kate Simeon presents on the costs HIV medication monitoring tests.

Her study found that POC testing is a potential cost saving opportunity in HIV care with more savings seen the longer a patient is monitored with POC methods. Of the three routine tests examined in this research—HIV viral load, CD4, and Creatinine—the HIV viral load POC testing provides the most potential cost savings over the cost of a similar test performed at centralized laboratories. 

“Participating in CUGH helped me gain experience in communicating research findings to a broad audience. There’s a lot of work involved in creating a high-quality presentation. I also enjoyed networking with faculty and connecting with people who are doing the work I want to one day be doing,” said Kate.

Haley Carroll is a Clinical Psychology PhD student in the UW Department of Psychology and is currently on clinical internship at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital. She won the top award in the Social Determinants of Health category. Haley presented preliminary results from a year-long project she co-conducted in Peru, along with her partner Bruno Ardito. As a part of the Fogarty Kuskaya Fellowship, an interdisciplinary exchange between UW and Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, she conducted a mixed methods assessment of domestic violence and alcohol use.

Haley Carroll conducted research to understand intimate partner violence in Peru.

The project reinforced existing literature suggesting that alcohol contributes to domestic violence in a complex way. That is, alcohol use does not simply "cause" domestic violence, but rather underlying factors contribute to both alcohol use and domestic violence, and that these underlying factors could be targeted through treatment. The research looked at a small part of this equation, utilizing implementation science models.

“This was the first time I had presented my research in such a concise and direct method. I enjoyed learning to present in this way, and look forward to more opportunities to build on my experience,” said Haley.

Lesley Steinman, Health Services PhD at UW School of Public Health, was a finalist in the Lancet-CUGH student research competition. She shared research findings on the relationship between mental and physical non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Cambodia. NCDs like diabetes cause 8 out of every 10 deaths in low- and middle-income counties (LMICs), and depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. There is limited data from LMICs on these important co-occurring conditions, so she helped conduct a cohort study to describe the NCD burden in a Cambodian province. 

Lesley Steinman presents on the relationship between mental and physical non-communicable diseases in Cambodia.

The data for the study came from the Cambodian NGO partner MoPoTsyo, a network of community health workers that provide self-management and community-clinical linkages for diabetes and hypertension management. MoPoTsyo screened 300 participants for depression and anxiety and found that depression was significantly associated with the prevalence of diabetes. The study helps set the stage for novel research with Cambodian partners to implement a collaborative care model to improve depression recognition and treatment at a diabetes center in Phnom Penh. 

“I’m new to global health work so it was awesome to attend CUGH to meet new colleagues, learn about the latest and greatest research methods and approaches, and be inspired and activated. I really loved the presentations at CUGH on implementation science, on social engagement and entrepreneurship, on overcoming disparities in healthy aging, and on the war on women - they gave a nice balance of providing context, offering practical tools we can use now, and pushing the envelope for future research, teaching and advocacy.  I am looking forward to applying what I learned to our projects. CUGH is a really welcoming community and that was felt throughout the conference,” said Lesley.

Yingxi Zhao, a UW MPH Global Health general track student, presented his research as part of a panel on Global Health Law, Human Rights, and Conflict Prevention. His study looked at health inequity using a population-representative survey in a region of post-conflict Northeastern Myanmar home to several ethnic minority groups. He found that health inequity was a major issue leading to poor health status among populations in the region, and that such inequity in health was attributable to poverty, lack of financially protective measures, geographic barriers and gender-based disparity.

Yingxi Zhao (left) conducted research on health inequity in the post-conflict ethnic regions of Northeastern Myanmar.

The study is one of the largest and one of the few studies on health inequity in the Myanmar border area. With ongoing political conflicts between ethnic minorities and the Myanmar government, the project proposed a road map toward health system strengthening as peace building, which could be relevant to international organizations and donors working in Myanmar and other conflict regions.

“The CUGH sessions were very exciting and inspiring. I feel so honored to present my work, and I also got to meet many scholars from different institutions working on similar topics through the sessions and networking events. A highlight was the UW Department of Global Health alumni event, which allowed me to meet more graduates from our program and learn about their work, which is truly thrilling,” said Yingxi. 

In total 12 UW Department of Global Health students presented their research findings at the conference. The winners of the competition received $500 each from The Lancet Global Health for continuing their research.