From Vaccinations to Kidney Donation and Beyond: New Bass Connections Global Health Projects

February 10, 2015

Whether undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral, students often crave challenging real-world experiences to supplement their studies as they prepare for a complex and evolving workforce. Duke’s Bass Connections program affords students a unique interdisciplinary opportunity to hone critical career and life skills—such as collaboration, critical thinking, and creative problem solving—through experiential learning projects, many of which include fieldwork in other countries.

Bass Connections, a university-wide initiative launched in 2013 with a $50 million gift from Anne and Robert Bass, connects students from every discipline and at every level with faculty-led projects centered around several themes:

  • Brain and Society
  • Information, Society and Culture
  • Global Health
  • Education and Human Development
  • Energy 

These projects, which often include community members in addition to Duke students and faculty, last three to 18 months, with many global health-themed projects lasting 12-18 months. Since the program’s inception, project teams have produced peer-reviewed journal articles, conference presentations, websites, mHealth interventions, and educational materials.

Bass Connections is currently recruiting for projects beginning this summer. Seven global health projects spanning four continents and 11 countries are currently accepting applications. 

Although individual projects may continue to accept applications after the initial deadline, interested students are strongly encouraged to apply by February 23.

Current Bass Connections Global Health Projects

The current crop of global health projects spans a wide spectrum of topics, from sickle cell disease to nurse anesthesia education to environmental epidemiology, with several of the studies involving cross-cultural comparative analyses. Brief descriptions of these opportunities are provided below; for more details, visit Bass Connections in Global Health on the web.

Integrative Global Research on Sickle Cell Disease

This project is the initial phase of a long-term endeavor to 1) understand the contributions of biological and non-biological factors to phenotypic variability in sickle cell disease and 2) improve outcomes worldwide for people with sickle cell disease. This team will reconcile existing patient datasets from three study sites, characterize relevant contextual dimensions of the three countries and conduct a proof-of concept study to evaluate and refine the preliminary conceptual framework. 

“My work with the sickle cell project has been invaluable,” said global health major Madelaine Katz ‘16. “I’ve had the chance to work on small teams with incredible Duke faculty members, who have helped me understand how the research process works and how to interact productively with global teams.”  Learn more

Community Care of Frail Elders in Cross-Cultural Settings: A Team-Based Approach

This project will explore the formal and informal caregiving arrangements and needs of Chinese elders experiencing cognitive or physical decline and compare these needs with a sample of Sri Lankan elders, with the ultimate goal of understanding the needs of these populations. The team will develop an interdisciplinary curriculum to support health care workforce in providing appropriate long-term care in developing countries. Learn more

Further Developing the Implementation of a Distance-Based Executive Style Degree Completion Program for Ghanian Nurse Anesthetists

The goal of the project is to use innovative technology and an executive training model to develop and implement a distance-based degree completion program for nurse anesthetists in Ghana. This program, which is being developed in collaboration with faculty at the University for Development Studies (UDS) in Tamale, Ghana, will allow for a continuity of care in the nurses’ home communities and will open up opportunities to train additional nurses to administer anesthesia. Learn more

Interculturally Competent Analysis of the Uptake of Routine Vaccination

This team will conduct a comparative analysis of the uptake of routine childhood vaccinations services in two rural settings in Ghana and Honduras, one with low vaccination rates, and the other with high rates. They’ll explore the use of mobile health (or "mHealth") services in improving vaccination uptake, studying the knowledge, attitudes and practices affecting vaccination uptake and analyzing gender differences in mobile phone ownership and use within households. Learn more

Environmental Epidemiology in Latin America – Leishmania

The purposes of this project are to (1) learn about the current epidemiology and state of science regarding cutaneous leishmaniasis, a neglected tropical disease transmitted by a phlebotomine sandfly, and (2) design and implement a field-based ecological study of leishmania vectors and (potential) hosts. The project team will also work with the Ministry of Health to conduct prevalence surveys of infection and with the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit-6 to conduct parasitology tests on patients. NOTE: Recruitment for this project will begin later this year.

MSc-GH student Dominic Lucero thoroughly enjoyed participating in this project. He particularly valued visiting rural communities, meeting the locals, and seeing first-hand how global health research can directly impact people's lives. Learn more

Stakeholder Experiences with Prenatal Genetic Testing in the Developing World

This project will build on the work of a previous Bass Connections project, in which the team collected data on the global availability of non-invasive prenatal genetic testing (NIPT), gathered data on stakeholder opinions about and experiences with NIPT, and established research collaborations with local partners in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). In collaboration with these local partners, this project team will examine the feasibility, advantages and disadvantages of introducing NIPT into LMICs, compared to existing prenatal genetic testing practices. 

Global health major Dechen Lama ’15, who has participated in this project, feels that this hands-on, collaborative experience has helped prepare her for a career in health policy. “I've been able to extensively examine all the complexities and nuances of non-invasive prenatal testing in India from the ethical, legal, medical, and political deliberations involved in implementing this technology,” she said. “Getting practical experience under the guidance of a knowledgeable professor is invaluable.” Learn more

Generosity and gratitude: Mechanisms, Motivations, and Models of Living Kidney Donation

Looking closely at the current mechanisms of kidney donation and the motivations of those who do donate, especially those who donate outside their circle of family and friends, this team will explore innovative models of donation, with the aim of increasing the pool of living kidney donors. The project will focus specifically on the barriers to treatment and transplants among African Americans and the role of faith and faith communities in the recruitment of living kidney donors. Learn more

For more details, visit Bass Connections in Global Health on the web.

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Dechen Lama (right) and research partner Shilpa Sridhar at the Thanjavur Palace in Tamil Nadu

My work with the sickle cell project has been invaluable. I’ve had the chance to work on small teams with incredible Duke faculty members, who have helped me understand how the research process works and how to interact productively with global teams.

Madelaine Katz, global health major

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