Alumna Spotlight: Prasana Khatiwoda ’16 Takes DGHI Lessons Home to Nepal

September 10, 2018

As a medical doctor working in a hospital in her hometown of Kathmandu, Nepal, Prasana Khatiwoda MS’16 was struck by the number of patients who died from preventable diseases. It was this observation that eventually led her down the global health path.

Her clinical experiences helped her realize that efforts to increase healthcare accessibility and affordability aren’t necessarily enough to improve the health of a population. Healthcare policies and systems, she learned, also need to address factors such as gender, socioeconomic status and various forms of discrimination.

With this new understanding guiding her next career move, Khatiwoda made it her mission to help achieve sustainable and equitable health everywhere in the world by working to change health policies within the national and global political context. She left her position at the hospital and started working with a team of people conducting drug addiction research.

While that experience was fulfilling and eye-opening, Khatiwoda was eager to learn more in a formal academic setting. She chose the global health master’s program at DGHI because it offered an opportunity to pursue an intensive, field-based research experience in an area of personal interest. For her thesis project, she explored opioid addiction and the harm reduction movement—the use of Naloxone kits—in the United States. 

“In addition to helping me understand the health dynamics in a different country, I also got to experience first-hand how raising one’s voice through advocacy can bring about changes,” she reflected. The organization she worked with, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, played a significant role in passing two state laws that decreased overdose death rates in the state. Her thesis was published earlier this year in the North Carolina Medical Journal.

Returning to Nepal was a high priority for Khatiwoda, and after working as a research specialist in the HIV & Addictions Research Program at Duke for nearly a year after graduating, Khatiwoda realized this goal. “At DGHI, I learned about a wide range of health issues and how to develop sustainable solutions,” she said. “Now I’m back in Nepal to find a way to implement what I’ve learned.”

She hit the ground running, quickly securing a position as a global health research and practice consultant for the Center for Molecular Dynamics–Nepal (CMDN), an NGO that takes a multidisciplinary, transnational approach to devise innovative solutions to various health challenges. Khatiwoda was charged with creating the organization’s new global health division, called Cerebro–Center for Global Health. 

“I designed the division as a global health education and think tank hub inside the organization, focusing on translating research to action, providing education and training, and developing transnational and multi-sectoral collaborations,” she said. 

In the short term, Khatiwoda’s goal is to consolidate the organization’s cutting-edge global health-related research expertise, facilities and training programs to attract more partners, investments, research grants and projects. Looking ahead, she envisions helping to build it into a global health education institute whose multidisciplinary research could inform and influence both policies and interventions.

Her DGHI experience, Khatiwoda says, has been integral to her success in developing Cerebro. While at Duke, she saw the value of DGHI’s interdisciplinary approach to global health, which in turn inspired her to bring a similar focus to Cerebro. This multidisciplinary model also helped her not only build a foundation in research methods and skills, but also expertise in topics of personal interest, such as policy analysis, that are critical to her current work.

She has also drawn on her DGHI courses when explaining the term “global health”—an unfamiliar term to many Nepali—to stakeholders and people in local communities. “It’s been very helpful to reflect back on the classes I took at DGHI,” she said. “All of those class discussions and readings gave me the foundation to be able to articulate the core concept of global health research and practice and its importance.”

Several years after making her career transition, Khatiwoda’s energy and dedication to achieving health equity for people across Nepal and beyond is palpable and inspiring. “The possibilities we have to change the world are enormous, and I’m grateful that Duke prepared me to expect to do just that.” 

Check out the video Prasana recently produced to explain Cerebro's approach to addressing global health challenges:


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Naloxone Distribution
Prasana Khatiwoda distributes naloxone with the North Carolina Harm Reduction team in Raleigh, NC, as part of her field research experience.

The possibilities we have to change the world are enormous, and I’m grateful that Duke prepared me to expect to do just that.

Prasana Khatiwoda MS'16

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