Partners in Health Engage(s) students to advocate and learn 

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Though others might not think of healthcare as a human right, the nonprofit Partners in Health (PIH) most certainly does. The organization aims to implement sustainable healthcare systems in countries that need them most, and some dedicated UConn students have formed an on-campus organization called Partners in Health Engage (PIH Engage) to help advocate for these changes.  

According to Catherine Myers and Marlene Abouaassi, co-team coordinators of UConn’s chapter, PIH Engage is a system of organizations that branch off the larger nonprofit PIH. Found mainly on college campuses or as a young professional group, PIH Engage participates mainly in advocacy work. Members work to advocate for nonprofits like The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as for policy that affords everyone access to quality health care.  

“At a local level, as Partners in Health Engage, we do more — since we’re not trained health care workers or professions [sic] — do more on the basis of advocacy,” Abouaassi, an eighth-semester molecular and cell biology and sociology double major, said. “We’re just trying to bridge the gap between injustice and having people [have] the care that they need.” 

PIH itself sends professional members to various countries experiencing great disparities in healthcare to work with professionals there to build a better, more equitable health care system. Countries working with PIH invite the organization into their country and benefit from their partnership. Some of the countries PIH works with include Haiti, Mexico and Rwanda. They also work with the Navajo Nation in the southeastern United States.  

“Their idea is to work with the health ministries there, based off the five S’s to build a successful health care system, which is stuff, space, staff, systems and social support, and basically the theory behind that is that if you’re missing any of those five S’s, your healthcare system won’t operate,” Myers, a sixth-semester allied health and Spanish double major, said. “Ideally, the goal, since they’re employing local citizens and people from these specific countries–the end goal is that Partners in Health shouldn’t have to exist.” 

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At a recent partner meeting at Partners In Health-supported Koidu Government Hospital in Kono, Sierra Leone, the country’s Minister of Health and Sanitation, Dr. Alpha Wurie, spoke of the strong collaboration between PIH and the Sierra Leonean government. “In my 18 months as Minister,” he said, “I have learned to respect the intervention of PIH, providing for those who cannot provide for themselves and giving a helping hand to those who are weak now. The people of Kono deserve this service. By supporting PIH, you are supporting the Ministry in implementing universal health coverage, and chiefdom after chiefdom, ensuring health centers people can rely on.” #PartnersInHealth #InjusticeHasACure

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Myers says that PIH ultimately wants to institute equitable healthcare systems that countries can maintain themselves without outside assistance. This will theoretically allow more people to receive quality care.  

At UConn’s chapter, PIH Engage meetings consist of interactive and educational activities. The co-team coordinators say that members often watch documentaries or look over healthcare policies to learn more about challenges to creating equitable healthcare systems. Additionally, members call or email their elected officials to express their concerns and advocate for policy that forwards their goals.  

PIH Engage also hosts events open to the wider university and local community. In April, PIH Engage will screen the documentary “Bending the Arc,” about the founders of PIH and the movement that they started. PIH Engage also holds Strides in Solidarity, a 5k fundraiser.  

Abouaassi says that students in the UConn chapter of PIH Engage are interested in a variety of topics, including healthcare, public policy, social justice and politics but that any interested student can join the organization.  

She and Myers say that being in the organization extends many learning opportunities to students and that they themselves have benefitted from these experiences. In addition to showing them a new perspective on healthcare, being in PIH Engage has shown them how to make a local impact.  

“Partners in Health has, me myself, provided me with a different outlook on the healthcare system in general, in how I can make a much stronger impact locally if I am engaging with my representatives and senators,” Myers said.  

Students can reach out to UConn’s chapter of PIH Engage at uconnpih@gmail.com.  


Stephanie Santillo is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.

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