Social work, public health students get firsthand global health experience in Haiti this summer

Projects related to nutrition, infectious disease and health measurements all part of student experience

Fourteen students, joined by Lora Iannotti, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School, and Edward F. Lawlor, dean, spent time in Haiti this summer as part of a course focused on public health interventions in developing countries. Students gained firsthand knowledge of the many public health issues facing the country.


Lora Iannotti, PhD, has been working in Haiti since 1990.

Iannotti was in Leogane, Haiti, during the 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of the nation’s fragile infrastructure. Leogane was the epicenter of the quake, and Iannotti had to be evacuated to safety.

The assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis’ Brown School has returned every year since the earthquake to continue her research into improving health conditions and nutrition, especially for children, and examining how major infectious diseases spread.

This summer, 14 students — seven from the Master of Public Health program, five from the Master of Social Work program and two dual-degree students — joined Iannotti on a trip to the country as part of a course, “Transdisciplinary Problem-solving in Haiti: Public Health Interventions in Developing Countries.”

This marks the first time the course has been offered in Haiti. It previously was offered in India.

The goal: Give students firsthand experience in issues related to global health, including: health policy, epidemiology, biostatistics and program planning.

Three of the students remained in Haiti for an additional six- to eight-week practicum.

“My hope is that this experience in Haiti gives students a better understanding of the realities there — the limited food, the infections, the heat and the fatigue,” Iannotti said. “The students experienced all of that. And I think it was important for them to see those realities of a developing country.”

Edward F. Lawlor, PhD, dean of the Brown School and the William E. Gordon Distinguished Professor, visited students for a week in Haiti, engaging in teaching, visiting research sites and attending several policy meetings.

“Lora has been pursuing a long-term program of research on improving nutrition for children in Haiti that has expanded into additional projects for other members of our faculty,” Lawlor said. “The social work and public health challenges are great in Haiti, but the spirit and commitment of so many local leaders and residents, as well as that of our students, is truly inspiring.”

For more information on the Brown School’s global health specialization, directed by Iannotti, visit here.

The specialization provides a focus on issues most pertinent to low- and middle-income countries, such as the basic biology and epidemiology of major infectious diseases and health conditions in global health.