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Introducing News Team Member Diya Gopalan

Health is a complex, interdisciplinary science. Medicine remains at its core, yet it draws upon the humanities and social sciences to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges in healthcare. My passion for health derives from this—the way it takes a global view of disease trends and considers divergent insights when approaching a problem. Studying Human Health at Emory has allowed me to experience public health as the interdisciplinary field it is.

My understanding of health has largely been shaped by my diverse upbringing and work experiences. Having grown up across the United States, India, Japan, and Singapore, I have witnessed the way in which health may be uniquely defined by culture and tradition. I find it fascinating that food can be an immense indicator of a country’s culture, and by extension, health status. Take Japan for instance, notorious for its population’s longevity as an outcome of strong nutrition[1]—its dietary guidelines takes the form of a spinning top that resembles a traditional Japanese toy and prioritizes local conventional health-promoting practices such as drinking tea, grain-heavy meals, and frequent exercise. In a similar manner, India’s food pyramid places emphasis on vegetables and grains in accordance with its largely vegetarian population; it even highlights the nation’s considerable problem with drug and alcohol abuse, by incorporating messages such as “abstain from drinking alcohol” and “say no to tobacco” to complement dietary guidelines.

Taking Introduction to Global Health at Emory gave me an understanding of how distinctive cultural behaviors such as these can so prominently influence health outcomes worldwide. It inspired me to study abroad at King’s College London under its Global Health and Social Medicine program, which provided me with a holistic insight into health and disease through personal research projects and case study analyses. More importantly, it made me appreciate the interplay between economics, politics, culture, and health on a global scale. The unique part of the program was that it was not central to healthcare in England or even Europe at large; instead, I had the liberty of exploring disease and illness within their unique social contexts across regions of the world previously unfamiliar to me. I examined rift valley fever in Niger as a biosecurity crisis cultivated by an annual celebration of the monsoon’s end, analyzed the growth and globalization of antimicrobial resistance across developing regions as a catalyst of Western health practices, and assessed plastic surgery trends in the Global East and West as a function of cultural perceptions of beauty. I grew to appreciate the interface between global health and society, which prominently translated into my subsequent work experiences.

Diya Gopalaon is a young woman dressed in blue jeans and a black jacket and is standing in front of a traditional British phonebooth on the streets of London.
Diya Gopalan at King’s College London.

One internship stood out to me in particular. In the summer of 2016, I joined the Singapore Committee for UN Women as a public awareness and youth initiatives intern, working with young girls to encourage their pursuit of STEM careers. As a budding Human Health major, however, I was eager to create an impact on women’s health during my time there. In a conservative society such as Singapore, sexually transmitted disease and sexual health at large remains stigmatised for women in particular, often for fear of social discrimination. Very few women seek testing—out of 434 new cases of HIV infections, only 6% were female and 41% were at late stages of the disease at the time of diagnosis. Recognizing this as a critical problem with no adequate action being taken at the time, I worked with UN Women to institute an AIDS informational workshop in conjunction with National Testing Day, featuring specialist speakers and a testing service for women across Singapore. We advertised it under the more covert title of “Ladies Night”, which incidentally drew more interest from a younger cohort of women who were at greater risk of the disease.

I found the capacity to shed light and take action on an issue once largely concealed in society to be immensely edifying. To be able to destigmatize a sensitive topic for many women and consequently witness a tangible impact on personal health practices was a significant moment for me during my brief yet ongoing journey with human health. I hope to be able to have similar pivotal instances in my future work in healthcare and take along with me the many enlightening experiences and observations I have encountered with global health in these past four years.

Works cited

  1. Kurotani, K., Akter, S., Kashino, I., Goto, A., Mizoue, T., Noda, M., Sasazuki, S., Sawada, N. and Tsugane, S. (2016). Quality of diet and mortality among Japanese men and women: Japan Public Health Center based prospective study. BMJ, p.i1209.