“Preparing Boys for Life” takes on a slightly different meaning in the Global Impacts of Infectious Disease course, where students consider the myriad life forms that both infect and affect humanity. For our graduating seniors, the global population will top 8 billion people before they return to Haverford for their ten-year reunions, and with this, a whole host of emerging issues will require creative thinking, collaborative effort, and the ability to research and innovate when information is lacking. Considering this, the course deliberately puts students in the situation of facing a problem of enormous magnitude with little background and asks them to make their best judgements.
We begin with the story of a worm. Specifically, a three-foot-long parasitic worm found in tropical regions known as Dracunculus medinensis. In the 1980s, well before any of our students were born, an estimated 3.5 million people were infected by this worm each year, which burrows through the skin and creates a fiery, burning sore from which it emerges to lays eggs and infect anew. Through a concerted effort of researchers and global health workers, only 30 cases of this disease were reported in two African countries last year. That’s it – 30 cases. There is a distinct possibility that the Class of 2018 will share their graduation year with the complete eradication of a disease that has plagued humanity throughout recorded history. This would be only the second time humans have accomplished this feat.
The course deliberately puts students in the situation of facing a problem of enormous magnitude with little background and asks them to make their best judgements.
Inspired by this work, and by the realization that the actual solution to eliminating this disease was a simple and inexpensive drinking straw, students are tasked with researching and curating information about one of approximately 20 “Neglected Tropical Diseases,” as identified by the World Health Organization. Unlike diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, these NTDs receive limited research funding, have limited information published about them, and are generally not addressed at any large scale; they are neglected by the global community.
In teams of two, students in my class research a disease with the goal of developing a campaign that seeks to greatly reduce, or even eradicate its impacts. They create and curate Twitter accounts that have followers from around the globe. They design posters, movies, and podcasts to engage the Haverford and global communities. They develop websites as repositories of information about their diseases. In short, they become “experts” on a disease within our class and the school. As VI form student Tyler Burt summed it up in a podcast created by his group, “Literally three months ago, I was an uninformed citizen who didn’t know the first thing about what an NTD was. Now I’m getting in contact with control centers, new anchors, and local leaders about the best ways to combat these NTDs.”
Global Impacts of Infectious Diseases allows me to support and guide students as they learn to engage with and understand the world and its issues. I hope the experience will allow students to graduate with confidence that they can have an impact on our global community.
The culmination of students’ work in this class was participation in Haverford’s inaugural Global Impacts of Infectious Disease Symposium on May 9. Each pair took to the podium to brief students, faculty, and guests about the disease they spent a semester studying. They proposed ideas to manage outbreaks and engage in questions and dialogue in the same way that infectious disease experts do. In their own ways, each group worked to uncover and share knowledge with the world.
Global Impacts of Infectious Diseases allows me to support and guide students as they learn to engage with and understand the world and its issues. I hope the experience will allow students to graduate with confidence that they can have an impact on our global community. Indeed, I trust that they will leave Haverford prepared to do remarkable things. All our futures will depend on them.