A new Global Health Equity professorship program will bolster research led by three University of Virginia professors on topics including the toxicity of electronic waste, the alarming trend of rural hospital closures and the experiences of asylum-seekers arriving in Charlottesville.
All three projects address key challenges to the health and well-being of individuals and communities in the U.S. and around the world and are recipients of the Center for Global Health Equity’s inaugural Richard and Nancy Guerrant Global Health Equity Professorships.
The professors plan to launch their research in early 2022 and will have support for the next three years. The faculty members are from the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, the McIntire School of Commerce and the School of Nursing.
“Making resources available to faculty to address global health equity not only generates student opportunities, but also enriches us all – especially those in greatest need,” said Richard Guerrant, founding director of the Center for Global Health Equity, whose generous support with his wife, Nancy Guerrant, made the professorships possible.
Rebecca Dillingham, the center’s director, said the center’s commitment since 2001 to health for all has never been more important than now, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made visible long-standing challenges to the achievement of health equity.
“It is a wonderful and unique opportunity to recognize and support outstanding faculty members from across Grounds whose research demonstrates commitment to building knowledge and developing strategies to reduce health disparities in the United States and around the globe,” said Dillingham, a professor of medicine.
The three awardees for Center for Global Health Equity Global Health Equity Professorships are:
- Kwame Otu, assistant professor in Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, for his project, “Scenes of Toxicity.”
- Natasha Foutz, associate professor in the McIntire School of Commerce, for her project, “Impact of Rural Hospital Closure on Health Equity: Insights from Location Big Data.”
- Kathryn Laughon, associate professor in School of Nursing, for her project, “The Border is Here: Experiences of Asylum Seeker’s ‘Last Leg’ Travel and Arrival Home in the United States.”
Kwame Otu: “Scenes of Toxicity”
Q. Why is this project important?
A. This project will look at the lives of e-waste workers, mostly men, on an electronic waste dump in Agbogbloshie – nicknamed “Sodom and Gomorrah” – in Accra, Ghana’s capital. These men incinerate obsolete technology to extract the valuable metals embedded in them. The precious metals include copper, aluminum and coltan, which are upcycled and resold in the global chain of valuable minerals. Having acquired international and local notoriety as the world’s largest e-waste dump, “Sodom and Gomorrah” officially became its popular name.
E-waste, like waste, in general, creates unsanitary environments and ecosystems for the bodies who work and live in zones designated for waste dumping. The incineration of e-waste exacerbates water and air pollution, all of which are global public health concerns that are simultaneously global environmental sustainability concerns.
Against this backdrop, the following questions will guide this visual ethnography, namely: What do the lives of e-waste workers in Agbogbloshie tell us about how Africa/Africans unevenly shoulder the ecological burdens of the world by becoming a site of deposition? Second, how is the e-waste heap an archive that foregrounds the consequences of slavery, colonization, neocolonialism and technological capitalism on African ecologies? Third, how does toxicity become a way of life? Last, how do e-waste workers, environmental NGOs and the nation-state respond collectively or disparately to the consequences wrought by e-waste in Ghana?
Q. How do you plan to engage the students in this project?
A. Together, we will employ audiovisual technology available to us from the Deliberative Media Lab, part of UVA’s Democracy Initiative, to capture and produce the dimensions of life and realities our local collaborators want to have shared with the world.
Thus, in this phase, we will travel with select students to Ghana to give them a sense of what fieldwork abroad looks like, and to also gain firsthand familiarity with those on-the-ground perspectives of the subjects being researched.
The investigators are excited to use this research as an opportunity to kickstart a course tentatively called “Toxic Ecologies and the Environmentalism of the Poor” by the end of the project’s first year in order to continue to have a steady stream of students for the project in the remaining years.
Natasha Foutz: “Impact of Rural Hospital Closure on Health Equity: Insights from Location Big Data”
Q. Why is this project important?
A. An alarming number of rural hospitals are closing in the U.S., 181 (10%) since January 2005, impacting one-fifth of the U.S. population living in rural areas. This trend has continued to intensify during the pandemic, with 21 closures in 2020, and research shows that more than 25% of the rural hospitals are at immediate risk of closure across 22 states.
Through this project, we want to find out, how does this impact an individual’s ability to access health care providers, and about rural sub-population health disparities that result from rural hospital closures.
I plan to use the rural areas around Philadelphia as an empirical illustration.
Q. What are some of the mechanisms you will be using to study the closure and its impact?
A. Previous studies have looked at the aggregate impacts of hospital closures at a community level, but we plan to leverage the newly available, population-scale, individual-level smartphone location data.
These data embed naturally observed, granular (by minute), 24/7, rich individual behaviors and broad lifestyles. When combined with cutting-edge methodologies – including machine learning, Geographic Information System and statistical analysis – these data empower us to develop granular (individual-level, by minute or daily), yet panoramic (population-level, broad lifestyle), perspectives of the urban-rural and within rural sub-population health disparities that result from rural hospital closures.
Kathryn Laughon: “The Border is Here: Experiences of Asylum Seeker’s ‘Last Leg’ Travel and Arrival Home in the United States”
Q. Why is this project important?
A. Migrants often begin their journey to their sponsors with little, often in Greyhound buses. An informal network of volunteers has been meeting these buses in various cities for multiple years.
During the brief stops, volunteers provide basic food and water, hygiene supplies and simple over-the-counter medications. This work operates outside of formal nonprofit organizational structures. The experience of cross-country travel is only one piece of the larger picture of the health, safety and human rights abuses asylum-seekers experience in this country. It is, however, occurring in our backyards.
There is an urgent need to document this experience for policymakers, to understand the health and safety risk posed to the asylum-seekers themselves and the potential health concerns for the vulnerable, predominantly immigrant communities to which they are travelling, so that we can welcome asylees in the manner intended by international and U.S. law.
Q. What is the population you will be looking at for this study?
A. We will be looking at the population that is coming into Charlottesville.
For those traveling on the line that comes through Charlottesville, the buses originate in Dallas. There are no volunteers to greet the travelers until Memphis. Starting in Memphis, volunteers do their best to identify asylum-seekers and provide basic aid, including simple over-the-counter medications and basic hygiene supplies. The number, destinations and basic needs of travelers are transmitted through the network, so that volunteers in upstream cities can meet their needs as possible.