Daniel Stanley, a Rural Medical Scholar and third-year medical student at the College of Community Health Sciences, spent most of September in Malawi, Africa, as part of a study on the effectiveness of church-based community health education and promotion.
Stanley, who is from Elmore County, Alabama, is studying the effectiveness of this type of health promotion as means of addressing health disparities in African-American communities in rural Alabama. He went to a rural area of Malawi to serve as a participant observer in a church-based health promotion program.
The Rural Medical Scholars program is exclusively for rural Alabama students who want to become physicians and practice in rural communities. The University of Alabama program includes a year of study, after students receive their undergraduate degree, that leads to a master’s degree in Rural Community Health as well as early admission to the University of Alabama School of Medicine. Rural Medical Scholars spend the first two years of medical school at the School of Medicine’s main campus in Birmingham and then return to the College, which serves as the Tuscaloosa Regional Campus for the School of Medicine, where they receive their third and fourth years of clinical education.
Stanley’s study is part of his required scholarly activity as a Rural Medical Scholar. He says he became interested in the topic during a family medicine rotation in Hale County.
“I really began to appreciate how the cultural perceptions of those living in rural west Alabama have molded their behavioral decisions, which has in some ways led to health disparities,” he says. “Another thing that I began to see was how this culture has led to a strong relationship between those living in such areas and the church. I began to consider how churches have served as a medium for health education and promotion.”
Because of his interest in mission-based, global health, Stanley looked for programs to observe abroad. Through the organization Community Health Evangelism, he was connected with a program in rural Lumbadzi, Malawi, that educates church leaders on health topics so that they can serve as health promoters in their faith community. Stanley says one of the main goals of the group was to address HIV misconceptions and provide education about testing and treatment.
“The program has been very successful in terms of addressing and correcting culturally-derived misconceptions about HIV,” he says. “There has been an increase in the number of people getting tested and seeking treatment in the villages where the program was introduced.”
Stanley also worked at a nearby hospital with its mobile clinic, visiting neighboring villages three times a week.
He says that while the medical issues he saw in Malawi were different from those in rural Alabama, he saw some common themes.
“There are some great similarities in that these are two marginalized populations with health disparities that can be reduced largely by behavioral modification,” he says.
Stanley says he hopes to share results of his study with local church leaders after completing his final report.