Whitman, Birchie

Public Health



Brazil- Capacity Development and Program Evaluation for Road Safety (CAPERS) in Low and Middle-Income Countries

The Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit is currently working with a consortium of partners to improve road safety in 10 low and middle-income countries around the world. The 10 countries involved in the project are Brazil, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mexico, Russia, Turkey and Vietnam. Along with the Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit, consortium partners include the World Health Organization, the Global Road Safety Partnership, the Association for Safe International Road Travel, EMBARQ and the World Bank. The Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit is responsible for the ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the road safety interventions in all 10 countries, as well as the development of training materials for health care workers. Interventions will address critical road safety risks such as helmet wearing, seatbelt use, drunk driving and speeding. The Unit is also assisting with subprojects such as trauma care in Kenya and India, and data system development in Kenya and Egypt.

Global Health Established Field Placement: Personal Narrative

Birchie Whitman, Research Assistant with the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

My work as a research assistant with the International Injury Research Unit (IIRU) was a great opportunity for me to work in the field of global health and to gain experience working and living in Brazil.  As a part of my masters degree at JHSPH, I was required to complete a practicum work experience, and in the department of International Health, it is encouraged that students complete this practicum in a low- or middle-income country or with an organization whose work is primarily conducted in such a country.  Because I had travelled extensively to Brazil and studied Portuguese, I began my search for a practicum opportunity with the specific goal of working in Brazil or a Portuguese-speaking country.  I was immediately drawn to the Global Health Established Field Placement working with IIRU in Brazil because of this goal. 

While many of my colleagues were looking for experience with certain disease or health concerns during their practicum search, my focus on a geographic/language area allowed me the freedom to work in fields that I might not have identified as a primary area of interest prior to the practicum experience.  Such was the case with the Road Safety in 10 Countries (RS10) project.  Although injuries in general (and transit-related injuries in specific) are often overlooked in discussions of top global health concerns, they are certainly an important emerging source of morbidity and mortality in much of the world. 

My experience working for IIRU in Brazil allowed me to learn about the impact of injuries in many ways.  First, I was able to travel across Brazil to many different cities to observe the interventions going on to combat transit-related injuries and the risk factors (like alcohol use and speeding) that drive their numbers.  Second, living in Brazil for four months gave me a keen perspective on how pervasive the culture of vehicle use and ownership is in the country.  Preconceptions about the use of cars and motorcycles being possible only among the rich were shattered as I waited hours in traffic, on busses, in cars, and as a pedestrian.  Even when working to collect roadside primary data about rates of alcohol use and excessive speed, it was clear that the risk factors for death and injury in traffic are prevalent and important issues for Brazilians.  Finally, as I carefully reviewed available sources of secondary data in Brazil to compile reports on the baseline status of road safety in the country, I learned that traffic crashes kill and injure more people in Brazil than many of the high-profile diseases that come to mind when people casually discuss the field of global health.

In addition to subject matter and language skills, my experience with IIRU through the GHEFP was an enriching experience from a professional and personal perspective.  Professionally, I was able to work face-to-face with leaders in the academic and public sectors in Brazil including members of the Ministry of Health, state and municipal transit departments, and federal universities in multiple cities.  I gained experience in technical writing and reporting in both English and Portuguese, and became familiar with some of the many cultural and logistical features of Brazil that can challenge collaborative work endeavors between the two countries.  Personally, I made dear friends in Porto Alegre who I know I will visit again and keep in touch with always.  I lived with a colleague and her family who I now consider to be family of my own.  I spent what would have been a chilly autumn in Baltimore enjoying a balmy spring in a tropical environment with parrots outside of my window.  I began to become familiar with the joyful and resilient spirit of Brazil and Brazilians that make the country an amazing and addictive place to work, live, and visit.  I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work through a GHEFP, and I hope that many future fellows will benefit from the opportunity as much as I did.


February 2021



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