DrPH Student Analyzes Health Campaign Integration for Neglected Infectious Diseases in Latin American and the Caribbean

Andrei Chell stands against a wall inside the UAlbany School of Public Health, wearing a blazer and a checkered shirt. He smiles at the camera.

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 29, 2021) – Second year Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) student Andrei Chell recently evaluated high-profile health campaign integrations in Honduras, Colombia, and Guyana related to three neglected infectious diseases. This work may help countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to better understand how integrated health campaigns could curb the spread of disease.

Integrating health campaigns is a method used by health professionals and organizations that enables co-delivery and collaboration for public health efforts. The goal is to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of multiple interventions as an alternative to numerous stand-alone campaigns.  While integrated health campaigns can be powerful ways to reduce disease, there are many moving parts and factors to consider when merging efforts, including risks, cost, and which components would benefit from integration.

Chell’s work, conducted as a practicum with the Health Campaign Effectiveness Coalition of the Task Force for Global Health in Atlanta, Georgia, reviewed the experience of integrated health campaigns in Honduras, Colombia, and Guyana for three neglected infectious diseases— soil-transmitted helminthiases (infections spread through contact with contaminated human feces), trachoma (a bacterial infection that can cause blindness), and lymphatic filariasis (a parasitic disease spread by infected mosquitos). He consulted closely with experts at the Task Force and at the regional office of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in Washington, DC.

Through an extensive literature review and qualitative interviews with key informants in PAHO country offices, Chell and colleagues summarized best practices, successes, gaps, and challenges from past experiences in the region.

“Health campaign integration for neglected infectious diseases is relatively new in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean, and can serve as an important platform for providing integrated health services,” Chell explains. “Compared with vertical campaign approaches that target one single disease intervention, such integration among priority health programs can prove more cost-effective and efficient to achieve prevention and control targets.”

In addition to strengthening health campaigns in their own countries, the models from Honduras, Colombia, and Guyana may help other countries in the region to understand the “how” and “why” for integration, learn from previous initiatives, and to pull on best practices.

This project was particularly of interest to Chell, a public health professional from Belize’s Ministry of Health and Wellness before coming to UAlbany to complete his DrPH. In his role at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, he was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of health programs and policies in various public health disciplines. Chell’s work with the Health Campaign Effectiveness Coalition enabled him to gain critical insight into integrated health campaigns, which will help him in the long-term as he works towards his professional goal to create changes for effective health systems in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“While the pandemic has greatly disrupted health services worldwide, it has also opened opportunities for a broader and more comprehensive approach to tackling the root causes of not only neglected infectious diseases, but also other public health problems,” Chell says. “It is therefore imperative for countries like Honduras, Colombia, and Guyana to facilitate more integration and synergies between vertical public health priority programs as the region continues working towards Universal Health Coverage and Health Systems Strengthening.”

Chell completed this remote work with the Health Campaign Effectiveness Coalition in addition to his full-time practicum with the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute. He was approached by John Justino, Director of UAlbany’s Center for Global Health and David Gittelman, Clinical Associate Professor, about working with the Health Campaign Effectiveness Coalition. They connected him to colleagues in Atlanta, Georgia, to discuss working remotely in the evenings and during the weekends.

“I thought to myself that I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by, especially as I am eager to gain other experiences and expand my network whilst here in the U.S,” says Chell.

In late September 2021, Chell finalized the technical brief on health campaign integration related to neglected infectious diseases in Latin America and the Caribbean and was invited to present the findings of the study at the Task Force for Global Health Campaign Integration Working Group Meeting.

“Presenting the insights of the technical brief to this group of highly renowned public health experts was a true honor,” Chell says.

Ultimately, Chell’s work can be used to inform regional recommendations for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and to share best practices and lessons learned around health campaign integration. When implemented properly, health campaign integration can greatly improve the success of public health efforts, and subsequently improve the health of millions in the targeted region.