AGPHI Newsletter – A Year in Review 2017-18

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The Year in Review: 
Highlights and Announcements
from the 2017-2018 Academic Year

Welcome to the AGPHI Member Newsletter! If you haven’t heard of us, the Applied Global Public Health Initiative (AGPHI) is a lab within NYU’s College of Global Public Health (GPH) that is run by students and overseen by Dr. Chris Dickey. The lab focuses on project-based global public health research in collaboration with industry sponsors and frequently hosts renowned guest speakers to discuss creative solutions to public health issues around the world. This year, AGPHI members had the opportunity to work on a number of projects in collaboration with industry sponsors from UNICEF, to Grameen Vidasana, to startup organizations bringing sustainable waste management systems to developing countries. Through collaborating with outside organizations, not only have we developed new, important skills for our future careers but we have expanded our understanding of what it means to be public health practitioners.

Project Highlights

Aging Innovation Challenge: NightLight

In January, AGPHI team members Hannah Berg, Felicity Duran and Emily Holzman entered the HeroX Aging Innovation Challenge, sponsored by the NY Department of Health. The challenge called for new, innovative products that would address activities of daily living (ADLs) for the aging population. To address the often-neglected ADL of sleep, the team decided to create an app: NightLight. NightLight was designed to give older adults the ability to access sleep sounds and guided meditations on demand to fall asleep and stay asleep naturally. In searching for easy-to-use solutions, the team focused on providing personalized sleep hygiene resources to establish and maintain healthy sleep practices and provide clear, concise, factual information about sleep issues and solutions in a centralized location.

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The team found that technologies such as these for the aging population are incredibly timely. Adoption of technology by older adults has increased by more than 50% from 2000 to 2014. Nearly 42% of adults over 65, and 59% of adults 65-69, now own a smartphone of some kind. Despite this large-scale adoption, barriers to usage continue to exist including feelings of unclear instructions, health-related barriers, and overall cost. To mitigate these, NightLight was designed to have a simple interface, large fonts and buttons, intuitive design, and minimal steps with easily understandable instructions. The team’s main goal was to make older adults feel confident in utilizing the app, providing them with a sense of self-efficacy, and ultimately better health outcomes through improving sleep. If older adults feel as though they understand and have control over the app, evidence demonstrates that they will feel confident in using it and integrating it into their nightly routines.

Home Grown School Feeding Programs in Ethiopia

For their capstone project, AGPHI members Pratik Sourav, Amber McLeod, Kiera Bloch and Ana Camargo went to Ethiopia where they worked with the World Food Programme (WFP) to evaluate its home grown school feeding program (HSGF).

WFP began implementing school feeding interventions in Ethiopia decades ago to combat these issues, but the homegrown school feeding pilot program was started in Ethiopia in 2012. The program originally relied mainly on in-kind donations but has now shifted its focus to locally sourcing sustainable foods, with its ultimate goal being to improve health outcomes and school performance in children, while bolstering agricultural development in the community.  This all contributes to the achievement of the UN’s broader Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relating to health, education, equality and economic growth.

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The objective of the  project was for the capstone team to evaluate and modify WFP’s “Theory of Change,” which essentially postulates that school feeding programs lead to reduced food insecurity, better nutritional and health outcomes for children, and improved academic performance and school completion rates, while stimulating the agricultural economy.  The team also identified bottlenecks in the delivery of the HSGF program and the nutritional content of the meals, and assessed the unintended consequences of school feeding programs.

To do this, the capstone team partnered with WFP to conduct key informant interviews at the Ethiopian Ministries of Health and Education, WFP Country Offices, Regional Bureau of Education, and 12 different primary schools (4 of which were HSGF schools). They also looked at comparison schools in the capital, Addis, where the First Lady’s Initiative to provide school meals had been implemented, and at schools without any form of school feeding program.  One of the capstone students, Kiera Bloch, commented on this aspect of their research, saying:

“Some of the most interesting things we learned were when we took a system-wide approach and were able to observe the unintended consequences of these school feeding programs. One thing we saw was that if you’re not “needy enough” to receive school feeding, it can actually increase the equity gap and some interesting things end up happening.”  

In the schools that didn’t have a school feeding program but were located near schools that did, children would end up going to the school that provided food and educators would apply to be transferred because they believe that professional evaluations tend to be higher for teachers in schools that provide food and water. This ultimately left the school without the feeding program in a worse position, with fewer attendees and fewer resources. Using the information from their system-wide interviews and observations, the team identified different indicators to assess the success of these programs under the “Theory of Change.” They then conducted a nutritional analysis to determine the nutritional makeup of the meals and make recommendations for where some micronutrients may be missing or where changes in portion size need to be made.  The team presented their final project in May and hope to continue their collaboration with WFP in improving the health and educational outcomes of school children in Ethiopia.

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