School Retention and Health in Uganda: A CSSW-MSPH Collaboration

One of the potential benefits of becoming a full-time faculty member at a major research university like Columbia is the opportunity of collaborating across the university’s various schools and departments. It is not always easy for faculty members to find each other, though.

Take, for example, the case of the research partnership formed between Dr. Fred Ssewamala, an associate professor at the Columbia School of Social Work, and Dr. John Santelli, Harriet and Robert H. Heilbrunn Professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Both of them were working in the Rakai District, Central Uganda, on the issue of helping youth who are at risk of infection from the HIV virus. Dr. Santelli was leading an initiative that looks at longitudinal data spanning 18 years to determine risk factors for HIV infection among such youth, while Dr. Ssewamala was designing interventions to keep more of them in school. But it was not until Dr. Santelli met Professor Jane Waldfogel at our School when he learned about Dr. Ssewamala, and the two finally met--in New York!

The rest, as they say, is history. The pair turned out to have so much in common, they immediately started considering some joint research projects, presenting their ideas at the 10th World Congress of the International Association for Adolescent Health, held nearly a year ago in Istanbul, Turkey. Their plans for collaboration caught the attention of a research scientist at the World Health Organization, and at her request, CSSW Communications, in conjunction with a member of the MSPH Communications, produced the following video highlighting the two researchers' decision to join forces in working out the kind of educational interventions that are most likely to improve health outcomes for Uganda's rural youth. The video is now being featured on WHO's new Website, “Health for the World’s Adolescents: A second chance in the second decade”; it will also be screened at the World Health Assembly this week in Geneva, with a side event to discuss the health and education issues it raises.