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Q & A with Claire Slesinski

Q & A with Claire Slesinski, MSPH, SALURBAL Project Manager and Senior Program Manager for Global Urban Health at the Urban Health Collaborative

Claire Slesinski

How did you first become engaged in global health, either through academics or professional experiences?

During my Master’s program, I took several classes that incorporated examples from global health programs. Prior to this, I was imagining myself mostly working on domestic projects. However, I found the examples of projects and programs implemented in other countries to be much more exciting and interesting than examples of domestic interventions. After I completed my Master’s coursework, I completed a field placement at a non-profit organization based in Mexico City, called “Yo Quiero, Yo Puedo,” which was my first global health work experience.

What current projects are you working on?

I’m the project manager for the Salud Urbana en America Latina Project (SALURBAL). I’ve been in this role since March of 2017, one month before the grant funding began for the project.

Since I am the Senior Program Manager for Global Urban Health at the Urban Health Collaborative and support global research and programs more broadly within the UHC and Dornsife, I have also worked on a few other projects.

I co-authored a book chapter with Adriana Lein, Dr. Ana Diez Roux, and Dr. Waleska Caiaffa on urban health in Latin America and the Caribbean which was recently published in the Routledge Handbook of Global Urban Health.

I’m also leading a systematic review of behavior change interventions for urban water, sanitation, and hygiene with Dr. Ana Diez Roux and Dr. Alex Ezeh, which we are implementing for the UNICEF WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) unit.

I also fill other roles related to global health and global urban health within the UHC. Recently I co-led a cultural humility workshop for GATHER Fellows prior to their international site visits with co-facilitator Sarah Stevens, another global health staff member here at Dornsife in the department of Community Health and Prevention.

What are the research goals of the projects you’re working on?

The research goals for the SALURBAL project are very ambitious. The Drexel Urban Health Collaborative works with over 150 researchers, students, and staff at 11 research institutions in Latin America and 2 others in the United States to carry out a large number of studies within this project. The project’s four broad aims are:

  • To quantify the contributions of city and neighborhood-level factors to differences in levels of health and health inequalities among and within cities.
  • To evaluate the health and environmental impact of city and neighborhood-level policies and interventions by capitalizing on natural experiments.
  • To employ systems thinking and formal systems simulation models to better understand the dynamic relations between the urban environment, health and environmental sustainability and identify the plausible impacts of selected policies.
  • To engage with the scientific community, the public, and policy makers to disseminate findings and translate them into policies and interventions.

Basically, the project is studying how urban environments and urban policies impact the health of city residents and factors related to environmental sustainability throughout Latin America.

What challenges have you faced in carrying these projects out?

As the project manager for such a large team, sometimes it can be very complicated to keep track of and monitor such a large number of ongoing activities and ensure everything is moving ahead smoothly. However, the teams across the region are wonderful to work with and we’ve developed several strategies for coordination, including a google site, slack team, monthly internal newsletters, monthly team videoconference calls, annual work plans, and biannual in-person meetings which help us to stay connected and moving forward.

Who are you partnering with?

A full list of collaborators on the SALURBAL project can be found on the SALURBAL website

I’m also working with the UNICEF-WASH office in New York City.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a global health professional since the beginning of your career?

I think the most important thing I’ve learned as a global health professional is that the way I see the world and the things I’ve been taught in formal academic programs are not necessarily the way others will understand them.

Understandings of things like pathology and disease, social determinants of health, and health promotion can mean different things to different people in different contexts and cultures, but these understandings are all legitimate.

Working across cultures to promote health is incredibly complex. It can be difficult for US-trained global health professionals to break free of an “expert” mindset focused on “capacity building” in which people of other countries, especially those in the global south, are instructed on how to adopt the patterns of thinking and approaches to research and health promotion that have been developed in the US and the West. I wish I had become more educated in cultural humility and global power imbalances earlier in my career!

I think it’s vital that all global health trainees should educate themselves on the legacy of colonialism that still influences global health funding, programming, and research today.

How do you predict the global landscape of high priority public health issues will shift over the next 10 years?

An enormous shift toward emphasizing the health and health equity implications of global climate change is already occurring.

Climate change refugees already number in the millions, and their numbers will keep increasing over time as extreme weather events become more frequent and widespread.

Increasing temperatures will mean that mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya, and zika will become problems in places that haven’t previously experienced them as vectors of these diseases find comfortable homes further and further north.

The impacts of increasing temperatures on things like allergies, mental health, cardiovascular disease, and other health outcomes are already making headlines.

I think as time and climate change progress, the emphasis on climate change mitigation, adaptation, and health outcomes related to changes in weather patterns and temperatures will become a larger and larger focus for global health funders and policymakers at all levels of government.

What advice can you give to students considering a degree in global health?

Always be networking, and always think about the impression you’re making. The team members on your group project will eventually become your professional contacts and colleagues. The faculty member that asks for your help with copying paper survey responses into their database may eventually be looking for a research coordinator and think of the great work you did. Poster presenters alongside you at a conference may be working at an organization that is seeking applicants for your dream job.

You never know how far into the future the impressions you make during your academic program will influence your future career, even years later.