Student Spotlight: Noor Tasnim ’18 Finds Global Health Calling in Feet

Published March 26, 2018 under Education News


Noor Tasnim (far left at the laptop) conducts musculoskeletal research in Mandena, Madagascar.

Noor Tasnim, a global health and evolutionary anthropology major from Saint Petersburg, Florida, was motivated to study global health after seeing health disparities when traveling abroad. After research experiences in several more countries, Tasnim is focusing his global health studies on musculoskeletal disorders.

International Travel as a Gateway to Global Health

Both of Tasnim’s parents are first-generation immigrants from Bangladesh. Tasnim attributes much of his interest in global health to opportunities he had as a child to travel back to Bangladesh with his family. During one of these trips, his eyes were opened to the inequality in wealth, education and gender norms that existed throughout the nation. “As I grew older, I began to understand how these disparities affected health outcomes, sparking my interest in global health and learning how to address such inequality locally and globally,” Tasnim said.

Tasnim saw this international travel experience as incredibly valuable and prioritized international travel opportunities in his search for a global health program. He chose Duke for its various international engagement programs. “I wanted to use the knowledge I would gain from the classroom and apply it in a global context,” he said. Throughout his time as a global health student, Tasnim has taken global health courses in Costa Rica, participated in the Student Research Training (SRT) Program in Guatemala, conducted research in Madagascar, addressed health disparities in Durham, North Carolina, and traveled to New York to present research findings.

Pollution, Education and Foot Pain

After his sophomore year, Tasnim conducted research through SRT with David Boyd, the Hymowitz Professor of the Practice of Global Health, in Santa Cruz La Laguna, Guatemala. His team examined levels of household air pollution and assessed knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about sexually transmitted infections among indigenous Maya women. When they weren’t collecting research data, the team taught handwashing and dental hygiene skills in local schools. 

The next summer, Tasnim was awarded a DGHI grant to travel to Mandena, Madagascar to examine differences in foot morphology between males and females among a population of people who don’t wear shoes. Charles Nunn, professor of evolutionary anthropology and global health, and Daniel Schmitt, an evolutionary anthropology professor, mentored his project. 

Tasnim’s goal was to determine how differences in foot shape affected the onset of foot and ankle pain. He also analyzed how this pain affects gait and how much force participants applied with their feet while walking. Tasnim found that after being standardized for mass, female’s feet were shorter and narrower than male feet and that females reported higher ankle or foot pain and spent more hours on their feet than males. If this foot pain prevents people from working, they can become stuck in a poverty trap. Tasnim’s research will help guide future interventions to reduce risk factors that may cause debilitating foot pain.

Watch the video below to hear Tasnim talk about his favorite aspect of his time in Madagascar:



Blending Humanities and Natural Sciences at DGHI

Tasnim appreciated the blend of humanities and natural science classes in the global health curriculum. “These varied courses helped me gain a holistic understanding of determinants of health and how to address the disparities in our local community and abroad,” he said. 

The global health capstone course was also a highlight of Tasnim’s experience at the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI). His class was unique in that all of the groups chose to address health disparities in Durham. “It was fascinating to see my classmates and myself bring in our global health experiences and coursework to create our own interventions for the community we live in,” Tasnim said. He and his team designed a dating application intervention to increase knowledge of syphilis and encourage testing for sexually transmitted infections in the Durham community.

Developing a Passion for Musculoskeletal Disorders

Tasnim’s research, coupled with his evolutionary anthropology co-major, sparked a deeper interest in musculoskeletal disorders and disparity in treatment for these issues. “Many nations rely on manual labor to support their local economies,” said Tasnim. “But musculoskeletal disorders, especially osteoarthritis, inhibit productivity and can have larger implications for an individual’s and community’s well-being.” He emphasized that finding and eliminating risk factors for musculoskeletal disease, like daily activities or shoe wear choices, can provide solutions that improve both quality of life and the local economy.

After graduation, Tasnim plans to attend graduate school to earn a PhD in biomechanics. His goal is to use his knowledge and experience from DGHI and beyond to address disparities in musculoskeletal health locally and globally.

Musculoskeletal disorders, especially osteoarthritis, inhibit productivity and can have larger implications for an individual’s and community’s well-being.

Noor Tasnim, global health major