Improving Global Health Through Competition

The Minister of Health just confirmed a worst-case scenario: three cases of Ebola in a neighborhood near the soccer stadium, set to host an international tournament next month that will attract thousands of visitors.

It’s a fictitious scenario, but similar in complexity to the case that University of Minnesota students will tackle in the fourth annual Global Health Case Competitionon January 23 through 28 hosted by the Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility.

The competition explores complex real-world global health challenges, such as refugee crises, sanitation, violence, sustainable development and infectious disease outbreaks, which are increasingly common in a world with more people, changing climates and drug-resistant viruses. Teams include students from all areas of study, including public health, nursing, veterinary science, environmental science, medicine, business, and beyond.

It’s the exact type of inter-professional experience that coaches say will prepare students for real-life global health projects.

“Historically care providers, veterinarians, biologists and others are trained in silos, where they apply science in their niche areas of interest,” said Carolyn Porta, PhD, MPH, associate professor in the University of Minnesota School of Nursing and two-time competition coach. “But, in reality global health challenges are not addressed in silos. We’re using this teaching-learning model to make sure students are prepared to collaborate with people across all healthcare fields, sectors and borders.”

Beyond The Classroom

Maya Rivera, graduate student in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, is drawn to the applicability of the competition.

After participating in a humanitarian crisis simulation in 2016, she yearned for more realistic learning opportunities that would add meaning to the lessons learned in classrooms.

Though students are not told what the case will be before the event, Rivera and team members had planned out a strategy for the competition ahead of time.

“After we receive the challenge, we plan to each read it individually and gather information that’s relevant to the case,” said Rivera. “Then we’ll come back as a group to offer our view points – which come from various areas of study – and piece together a bigger solution because global health requires a team approach.”

The 2017 case will address sex trafficking in the United States. It’s a global topic with local implications, and involves many complexities that often accompany global health crises. It’s the first “global-local” case used in the University of Minnesota competition.

The benefits of the competition go beyond learning, too, Rivera said. The competition is a way to meet people from across the University and network with other professionals who have similar interests.

The winning team will go on to participate in a national case competition at Emory University in Atlanta – a trip that Rivera fully intends to make.

From UMN to Rwanda

After successful competitions at the University, Porta – with help from colleagues in the school’s One Health Workforce, a separate global health initiative – approached faculty and students at the University of Rwanda, offering to help organize a case competition among their student body. Past participants from the University of Minnesota competition were involved in the writing of the case and traveled to Rwanda to launch the competition.

Located in a hot spot for emerging global health challenges, the University of Rwanda was eager to implement such a realistic education model.

“All students studying to become health professionals, whether they’re at our University or elsewhere, keep the individual patient – a human or animal – front and center,” Porta said. “But through our case competitions, we’re encouraging them to think upstream, anticipate challenges and prevent global health disasters.”

After a successful event in Rwanda, additional Universities in Central and East Africa are planning to adopt a similar case competition education model for their students.

The final round of 2017 Global Health Case Competition presentations on January 28 are open to the public. For more information, visit: