Sabeera, University College London

Public Health in Colombia, 2018

Sabeera, a Medicine student at UCL, tells us about participating in the 2018 Public Health in Colombia course.

The course so far has been packed with a somewhat dizzying array of topics. We began by being given a crash course on Colombian history which was understandably both very intense and vastly interesting. We learnt a lot – from the fragmentation of the previous larger nation to the 1000 day war in 1900 and the emerging Guerilla groups and outlaws. Alongside the kidnapping and jails held in the jungles, I was particularly suprised to learn about how, in some areas, just how much community support the FARC groups provided, given the trust they had gained in their local regions and how strongly their anti-imperialist ideals resonated with people.

After looking into the construction of the peace process in detail, how it was manufactured and how the peace program is supported by the UN,  we had the exciting opportunity to visit the UN Verification ?ission building where we learnt more about what the plan entailed. There is an increasing focus on the multilayered process of integration of ex-combatants and much was discussed about the ways in which the justice system would respond to the myriad of legal prosecutions. Another important facet of our discussions was psychosocial rehabilitation and the dire need to deal with the problem of illicit drugs from a Public Health perspective as opposed to blanket criminalisation.

Later on we focused more on  how nuanced a health system needs to be in order to meet the needs of the complex demographic of Colombia, including over 60 indegnous groups, people living in many rural areas that face disastrous issues with access and those steeped in poverty. After going through a big list of contributing barriers to health we decided as a group that the lack of infrastructure and inequality were the two main integral themes in causing the disparity in health access seen today.

Besides that, we’ve also looked into how to finance the health system and had the chance to learn more about the basics of epidemiology and the importance of conducting a thorough census.

Whilst the course has ensured my brain has been packed with new nuggets of information, it has also given the chance to get to know brilliant people through some cool social excursions. Last night we all attempted the Colombian traditional game of Tejo- it was amazing and is essentially bowling with fireworks! We had a great trip to an small independent theatre in Bogota. It’s very useful to have accomdoaiton in such a central location – it has made getting around much easier. Additionally the city is brimming with free museums and exhibitions to explore – my favourite thus far has been the Gold museum which harboured intricate history and stunning pieces of craftsmanship!

Watching the world cup games here and seeing Colombia win was incredible; it was so lovely to see the whole city celebrating together in such a vibrant vibes it’s especially nice considering the recent tension surrounding the Presidential elections results last week which left much of the city divided in opinions again.

I’m really looking forward to our trek next week to Monserrate and also continuing the course with the site visits getting more and more varied.