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Experiences of a MPH Student

My name is Janice Bonsu, a Master of Public Health student at the University of Pennsylvania. This summer, I am in Gaborone (read: ha-bo-ron-ee), Botswana volunteering as a trial monitoring coordinator for a pediatric gastroenteritis multi-site randomized control trial. Our aim is to investigate whether targeted antimicrobial therapy in children produces significant benefits in growth or mortality.

Thisjaniceb.png isn’t a “best places to see” blog post. I began my summer in Sunyani, Ghana, visiting my family for what was one of our largest gatherings to date. I packed for Ghana as I’ve always packed for Ghana; even in “winter” Ghana is a balmy 80 ºF. In late May, I said goodbye to my family who stood puzzled as I boarded a flight to Botswana. They were confused by my decision to conduct research in Botswana rather in Ghana. “Go with God,” my grandfather said, “and remember to bring the results back home.”

I knew I would be tired and hungry when I landed in Gaborone, especially after a 12-hour flight that left me stranded in Qatar for a day. As I disembarked the plane and gingerly drew in the 38 ºF night air, I realized that Botswana would be unlike any experience in Africa that I have had.

Since that evening, I like to think that I’ve adjusted to life in Gabs with a bit more grace. If that is, in fact, true, then it is entirely due to my coworkers and the other Penn students whom I have come to know. The Penn students are a diverse mix of Master of Public Health students, medical students, PhD students, residents, and nurses. Though we’ve all become close friends, I am proud to say that we have not clung to each other at the expense of making new friends in Botswana.

In a country where, from appearance, I seem to be a familiar stranger, most people are disappointed when they learn that I don’t understand Setswana. My coworkers have become my core support group. They are a passionate mix of people from all over Botswana: Mma Moorad is a Mokwena from Molepolole and Oarabile is a Mokgatla wa-ga-Mmanaana from Thamaga. Ikanyeng is a Motawana from Maun and Letang is a Mongwaketse from Kanye. And rounding out the group are Mbabi, Boswa, and Charity who are Kalanga from Gweta, Makuta, and Tsamaya. More than just translating for me and teaching me phrases in Setswana, this team has given me people to call home. They have also enabled me to grow a deep appreciation and understanding for values that I also share as a Ghanaian.

Pride in cultural values and identity run deep in Botswana. So much so that when I set out to write this entry and shared my draft, my coworkers encouraged me to include their tribal affiliations. The significance of trial identity has also been important in our research study. For example the cultural practice of botsetsi differs between the various tribes in Botswana. Botsetsi is a practice in which after a mother gives birth to a baby, there are restrictions for what she can and cannot do, who may or may not visit her, what food she can and cannot eat, etc. Some tribes practice botsetsi for two weeks while some practice it for as long as three months. As we are working in a pediatric research study, knowledge of cultural traditions such as botsetsi has proved to be invaluable.

As the majority of my family lives outside of the United States, traveling has always been a part of my life. However, this trip to a country that I have no familial attachment to has revealed to me the common strands that run through all of us – Ghanaian, Batswana, American, and other. If I had to give advice to another student, I would encourage them to find what motivates them and travel. You learn about yourself when your normal routine is disrupted and you must listen and navigate in a world that you do not understand.

Though the most overlooked sight in Africa is the people, I would be remiss if I didn’t leave you with a photo I snapped of Bots’ national animal, the zebra.




Community Driven Research Day 2016

Presenting Organizations 2016:

Hepatitis B Foundation
Resources for Human Development/Morris Home
Chinatown Clinic
City of Philadelphia, Department of Behavioral Health
Holcomb Behavioral Health Systems
Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative
Susquehanna Clean Up/Pick Up
EndDistracted Driving(
Church of the Advocate
Nationalities Service Center
Schuylkill River Town Program (Penna Enviro Council)
Healthy Kids Running Series
Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA)
The Center for Grieving Children
Angel Flight East
Mujeres Luchadoras
UpLift Solutions
Health Promotion Council
Sayre Health Center
JEVS Human Services
Broad Street Ministry
Mobile CPR Project Philadelphia
Envisions Urban Initiative
Lutheran Settlement House
Treatment Research Institute
Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network (PIHN)
Survive Strive Thrive, Inc.
In the dance
Second Mount Zion (SMZ) Baptist Church Health,Wellness & Fitness Ambassadors
Norris Square Community Alliance
New Kensington Community Development Corporation
The Attic
Korean American Women’s Association in Philadelphia

Substance Abuse, Violence, and HIV: Changing Environments to Reduce Risk

Conversations around Cultures of Health: Substance Abuse, Violence, and HIV: Changing Environments to Reduce Risk

Thursday, October 16th, 5:00-6:30pm
Alumni House, 3533 Locust Walk
Wine & Cheese Reception. | RSVP

Philippe Bourgois, PhD is the Richard Perry University Professor of
Anthropology and Family and Community Medicine. He has been conducting
participant-observation fieldwork in the US inner city since 1985 with NIH support
on substance abuse and HIV in the urban United States. He has published over
150 articles in public health, the humanities and the social sciences analyzing
social inequality, urban segregation, labor migration, ethnic conflict, violence,
homelessness, substance abuse, and poverty, interdisciplinary methods, HIV and
structural public health interventions. He is best known for his award-winning
books: In Search of Respect: Selling Crack El Barrio (Cambridge University Press)
and Righteous Dopefiend (University of California Press). In 2013-2014 he received
a Guggenheim Award and an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship to
work on a book manuscript entitled, Cornered, based on five years of fieldwork in
the heart of North Philadelphia’s open-air heroin and cocaine markets.

Brian Work, MD, MPH is Internal Medicine Faculty at the University of
Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and co-directs, attends, and teaches
at the United Community Clinic at First African Presbyterian Church in West
Philadelphia. Dr. Work focuses on community outreach, community public health,
and providing free and low-cost care out in the community. He has extensive
experience in substance abuse treatment and research and is an integral part of
Prevention Point Philadelphia and its Street Side Health Clinic. Prevention Point
Philadelphia is the only sanctioned organization that offers syringe exchange in
the region and has won an Impact Award from GlaxoSmithKilne for working in the
community to help reduce the spread of HIV.

Introducing: 2014/15 CPHI Seminar Series “Conversations Around Cultures of Health”

 Conversations around  Cultures of Healthculture of health

The 2014/15 CPHI seminar series, is entitled “Conversations around Cultures of Health”. The series builds upon the vision of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation(RWJF)’s around the Culture of Health and coincides with the University of Pennsylvania’s annual theme for 2014/15 – The Year of Health.

What are Cultures of Health? When we think about a Culture of Health, we see one where:

  • Good health isn’t confined to certain zipcodes;
  • Everyone can access healthy food, opportunities for physical activity and quality health care;
  • Individuals can breathe cleaner air, free of second-hand smoke;
  • Employees work in safe environments with healthy incentives; and
  • Health professionals, students and leaders can work together to develop culturally relevant solutions that make the healthy choice the easy choice in places we live, learn, work, shop and play.

Through the series, we hope to build upon this by engaging national and local experts, students, staff, faculty, health professionals and community members in our conversations.

 The seminar series will begin by further defining cultures of health. We will first hear from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation about their new vision around building a culture of health, and understand various definitions and applications of health, drawing from anthropology and ethnographic research methods. Next, we will examine multi-sectorial and multi-cultural approaches to improving health outcomes. These will focus on solutions to health disparities including but not be limited to healthy lifestyle, access to health resources, addressing opioid use in urban communities, and hot spotting work in Philadelphia.

Throughout each series, we aim to bring in different perspectives to add to the conversation; we are interested in defining health for different populations; communicating health and health outcomes research effectively; and understanding how to use tools to build cultures of health.

Specific Questions include:

  • What does health mean for different populations? How does the definition of health influence policy and practice decisions?
  • How do we work across sectors to build a culture of health?
  • What sources of technology help capture and promote health?
  • How can individuals more easily access good health?
  • What are significant cultural considerations of achieving the best health outcomes?
  • How do we market “good” health in a world where “bad” health is continually in our face
  • How do we translate what we know about achieving positive health outcomes to the general public?
  • How do we continue to work to close the gap on health disparities by creating healthier environments?

$4.35 Million Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Grant Establishes UPenn Prevention Research Center

CPHI will play an important role in the community engagement, partnerships, training and evaluation components of the new Center.

A five-year, $ 4,350,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established a Prevention Research Center (PRC) at the University of Pennsylvania, which will begin in September 2014. The PRC, one of 26 in the nation, will conduct innovative public health and disease management research aimed at preventing chronic disease and reducing health disparities in Southeastern Pennsylvania. This will be the first PRC in Philadelphia, and a major win for public health at Penn.

The PRC is co-directed by Karen Glanz, PhD, MPH, George A. Weiss University Professor and professor of epidemiology and nursing, and Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD, professor in the department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy and Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine and professor of health care management at The Wharton School. Glanz is also Interim Director for Research at the CPHI.

The PRC will strengthen public and private sector community partnerships; conduct research on how behavioral economics and public health strategies can reduce health risks and improve health in social-environmental contexts; and extend collaborative training, education, and communication in high-risk and underserved populations in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

The new UPenn PRC will advance missions that are also integral to the CPHI. This grant is a unique opportunity to create a hub for interdisciplinary chronic disease prevention research, training, and dissemination here at Penn, and will extend our commitment to reducing disparities and improving the health of those in our communities. Faculty members from the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Annenberg School for Communication, The Wharton School and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia are among the leadership of the new Center. CPHI Fellows Carolyn Cannuscio, David Grande, Doug Wiebe, John Holmes and Alison Buttenheim are on the leadership team.

The CDC awarded a total of $19.5 million to 26 academic institutions in 25 states to support development and evaluation of practical public health prevention interventions during the first year of the funding period. Further information, a map of all centers and their research description may be found at:


Penn Undergraduate Public Health Award

CPHI announces our 2014 Marjorie Bowman under-graduate award winner in Pubilc Health: Robert Hsu

Robert Picture

Robert is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying biology in the College of Arts & Sciences and business in Wharton, with an individualized concentration in public health.  His life mission is to make the world a healthier place, and at Penn, he’s explored this from various perspectives.  Robert was a research assistant at the Center for Health Behavior Research (led by Karen Glanz) for two years and then spent one summer at the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at Cambridge University under Theresa Marteau.  Currently, he is working on independent projects in soft contact lens care compliance and e-cigarette experimentation.  He also provided consulting services to a local community health organization to help it start a social enterprise to provide affordable, healthy food to underserved areas through a food truck.  Robert also provides physical activity and health education programming at a local school, the City School at Spruce Hill.  Finally, Robert helped start the Healthy Food Truck Initiative, which collaborates with food trucks to promote healthier meals to customers, provide some degree of nutritional information, and host events to educate people on healthier options available from food trucks. 

To read more about the Health Food Truck Initiative click here.

Interested in receiving an award for your public health work? Read more about CPHI awards and scholarships here.