Campus News

Indian Principal Secretary to Health of Meghalaya Visits Department of Population and Public Health Sciences

Bokie Muigai June 27, 2023
smiling group of professionals

On April 18, the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences hosted Sampath Kumar, MPA, Principal Secretary to Health & Family Welfare Department for the Government of Meghalaya. The northeastern state of India borders Bangladesh to the south has a population close to three million residents. It is known for its rich biodiversity, scenic rural landscapes, and as the wettest place on Earth.

Kumar was welcomed by Howard Hu, MD, MPH, ScD, Flora L. Thornton Department Chair of Population and Public Health Sciences, and met with several faculty. Kumar, a graduate of Harvard’s school of government and both a health scholar and senior administrator,  presented on successful public health initiatives his team have implemented, as well as health challenges experienced by his constituents.  His introduction to the department follows a series of discussions surrounding a visit to Meghalaya by Rani Kotha, JD, MPH, Senior Strategist, USC Schaeffer Center to India, providing an opportunity for him to further engage with faculty across USC who are leading experts in their respective fields.

Sampath Kumar, MPA was welcomed by faculty and staff from USC. Pictured from left: Mehak Kaur, MPH; Rani Kotha, JD, MPH; Aninda Das, MD; Howard Hu, MD, MPH, ScD; Sampath Kumar, MPA; Prabhu Gounder, MD. (Photo/USC)

“This exchange generated insightful discussions highlighting the importance of collaboration and benchmarking among researchers to improve health outcomes for populations across the world, particularly in low-resource settings,” expressed Hu.

In Meghalaya, the local government provides universal health coverage to the entire population, and has made several public health advances. This includes 99% immunization of children under the age of 1, and incorporation of innovative technologies such as drone delivery of medication to remote medical centers. ​

“Over the last few years, Meghalaya has prioritized the health of its citizens, through implementing political, governmental, and social changes that have resulted in major investments in evidence-based policies, human resources, innovative programs, and the collection and monitoring of data that have resulted in marked improvements in several health indices,” shared Kumar. “I am grateful for the opportunity to meet USC faculty during my visit and excited to embark on a joint bi-directional collaboration with the Department to continue to advance the public health research and training in Meghalaya and Los Angeles.”

Meghalaya’s public health concerns include high tobacco and alcohol consumption. Women use tobacco at triple the rate of other women in India. Similarly, men in this region consume alcohol at a rate 1.7 times higher than the national male average. Heather Wipfli, PhD, professor, showcased her efforts working with youth in a tobacco cessation initiatives in East Africa, Similarly, schools in Meghalaya are engaged in programs to reduce tobacco use to address the high cancer prevalence in the state. Our social networks expert Tom Valente, PhD, professor, explained how understanding social networks can provide an opportunity to improve health behavior.

Pictured from left: Mehak Kaur, MPH; Roksana Karim, PhD, MBBS; Howard Hu, MD, MPH, ScD; Sampath Kumar, MPA; Rani Kotha, JD, MPH; Farzana Choudhury, PhD; Shubha Kumar, PhD, MPH. (Photo/USC)

Next, Kumar met with professors Roksana Karim, PhD, MBBS, Shubha Kumar, PhD, MPH, and Farzana Choudhury, PhD, about developing a robust public health workforce. They deliberated the importance of rigorous training and tailored curricula to address localized community health needs shaped by cultural norms.

Afterwards, professor and environmental epidemiologist Talat Islam, PhD, MBBS, reviewed his work in neighboring country Bangladesh, around air pollution and women and infant mortality. Cooking on open fires or inefficient stoves poses health concerns experienced by many in this region. Professor Frank Gilliland, MD, shared his recommendations as an established air pollution investigator, on the importance of epidemiological studies and benefits of data to inform interventions in Meghalaya.

Kumar met infectious diseases specialists including professor Neeraj Sood, PhD, joint faculty member from USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, to discuss diarrhea treatment among children and the implications of availability and prescribing practices of oral rehydration salts. Additionally, adjunct professor Prabhu Gounder, MD, from Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH), shared the benefits of informatics in case surveillance and registries for infectious disease control, and pediatrician and professor Aninda Das, MD, MPH, FAAP, spoke about TB immunization and control in India, lending his global experience in this area.

The Secretary of Health closed out his visit, speaking to adjunct professor Andrea Kim, PhD, MPH. They spoke about her role as the Director for Vaccine Preventable Disease Control Program, LACDPH, and lessons learned from COVID-19, showcasing an opportunity to exchange best practices in pandemic preparedness.