The recently founded chapter of Partners in Health Engage at U.Va. is dedicated to providing healthcare for all. Since its inception at the University last spring, PIH has grown steadily and partnered with other organizations on Grounds to provide students with tools to tackle pressing global health inequalities.
As a global organization, Partners in Health Engage features chapters in hundreds of cities and universities. The organization helps provides health care options to those in need by establishing long-term relationships with governments in developing areas.
Ketlin Smith, PIH team lead and fourth-year College student, said she has always had an interest in health justice and how poverty affects access to healthcare. She first learned about PIH after reading PIH co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer’s work surrounding poverty in developing countries.
“When I read about PIH, I was like, whoa, that organization really represents everything I believe in,” Smith said. “So then I searched if I could get a group of people … [who] wanted to be part of the movement for the right to health.”
Smith reached out to the University’s Center for Global Health Equity, a group supporting global health initiatives, to explore the possibility of forming a PIH chapter. Through the CGHE, Smith was introduced to Owen Selden, community building and education lead and third-year College student, who had also learned about PIH’s work through a medical anthropology class. The two students began reaching out to interested students to form the chapter.
Since the CIO was founded, leaders have held a number of health-related events, both independently and in partnerships with other organization Grounds. The recent Global Health Opportunities Fair, an event co-hosted by PIH, CGHE and the University chapter of Doctors Without Borders, helped connect students to research opportunities through faculty and outside organizations.
“We had three different organizations getting together sharing ideas, sharing student leadership,” Selden said. “Really, the mission of that endeavor is to show exactly what is important in global health — partnership.”
PIH also partnered with the CGHE and other groups to screen the documentary Bending the Arc — a film detailing a group of health advocates and the founders of PIH as they try to improve health equity in developing nations.
Looking forward, Selden and Smith said PIH leaders look to grow a larger group of students to advance the mission of their organization. Currently the organization has close to 30 members, including nine executive members.
Selden said he hopes to add positions for members to take on in order to strengthen the CIO’s presence on Grounds, especially in the years after founding members graduate. Selden also aims to introduce more fundraising events through collaborations with even more groups and future speakers series featuring a wide variety of global health contributors.
“We're really focused on getting that started, with the idea of spreading PIH’s message that everyone has a role in global health, from engineers, to nurses, to physicians to community health workers,” Selden said. “Global health can be very broadly defined as far as who can make an impact.”
Smith said she similarly hopes to diversify the organization beyond the primarily health-focused context that attracts premed students.
“The goal is to make a lot of people aware of the issues that we have around the world regarding health and access to health rights,” Smith said. “Social justice and health justice is a matter that everyone should be aware of and fighting for.”
PIH’s next event will be a Strides in Solidarity 5K Saturday with fundraising towards the Maternal Center for Excellence — a PIH sister organization providing advanced maternal and child health services in Sierra Leone.