SPH first college student group to work with China CDC

In the first trip of its kind, a group of 30 graduate students from the School of Public Health spent spring break working with the China Centers for Disease Control in Tianjin, China, a city of 10 million just south of Beijing.

The students were assigned to fieldwork in district hospitals and village clinics, participating in projects related to immunizations, maternal and child health, environmental health and outbreak investigation.

Dr. Jianli Kan, director of epidemiology for the National China CDC, says this is the first time the China CDC has hosted American students for practice-based deployments. Kan trained under Matthew Boulton, SPH associate dean and the program's director, at the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Organizers expect the program to infuse new ideas into the Chinese public health system and to give American students exposure to problems they're not likely to encounter at home.

"We worry about avian flu and SARS arriving here," Boulton says. "China's public health system has been dealing with both for years now."

In China, diseases that have been long under control here, such as tuberculosis, measles and typhoid, are still serious threats. China has built much of its public health infrastructure from scratch after the SARS epidemic of 2003, including a sophisticated electronic disease reporting system.

The Chinese public health system comprises a national CDC, which has been heavily invested in and oversees an extensive countrywide system of local, provincial and city CDCs. The students spent their time in Tianjin, one of four large-city CDCs in China. Others were located in Shanghai, Chongqing and Beijing. Each of these city CDCs oversees a complex network of provincial and district hospitals, rural village clinics and other intermediate outpatient facilities over large geographic areas and burgeoning human populations.

U-M and the Tianjin Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China formally agreed last September to a scholar exchange program. The agreement provides reciprocal opportunities for scholarly exchange of students and faculty for training and joint research. The SPH already has had public health physician residents spend several-month training rotations there and three public health graduate students will complete summer internships working in Tianjin. The first Chinese public health leaders, Drs. Wenti Xu and Guohong Jiang of the Tianjin CDC, arrived in January in Ann Arbor and will be at SPH through March.

Goals of the exchange program are to conduct applied joint research, engage in public health practice and gain a better understanding of each other's public health systems.

The students were accompanied by staff from the SPH Office of Public Health Practice, which is the institutional home to the China Scholar Exchange Program.

To read a blog detailing the graduate students' experience in China, go to http://phastinchina.blogspot.com/.