I was recently invited by the Health Mission Deputy Director, Robin Martz, to the Bangkok USAID office to speak about the work I am doing in Southeast Asia. To my surprise and delight, I learned that she and I have similar backgrounds and educations. The Deputy Director started out in exercise physiology and worked in physical health and rehabilitation just like I did. She then received her LMSW from University of Michigan and has worked in public health for over 20 years. She has an interest in behavioral change and agreed with me that health behavior change is a very important initiative for public health. She even pointed me in the direction of a conference coming up that is focusing on International Social and Behavior Change Communication. This fits perfectly with the health literacy research that I will be doing in Thailand! I could not be more excited!
The future of international development and funding will soon move toward prevention and treatment of NonCommunicable Diseases (NCDs). As Southeast Asian countries continue to develop, they will unfortunately face more and more of these NCD epidemics (in part due to westernizing their diets). As a health behavior change researcher, I have a unique position of collecting data that can prove the existence of these diseases within the Asian populations and the need for funding to pilot prevention and management programs. It now becomes my job to make sure that when funding does become available, we have a strong understanding of the problem and a clear method to address it. We believe (and data will support this) that Integrated Behavioral Healthcare is the answer. While developed countries like the US have research and methods in place to manage the NCD epidemic, they are also in the middle of the epidemic. Asia however, is just starting to see these diseases develop, they are in the beginning stages of the epidemic. They have a real chance at getting in front of the issues by strengthening healthcare systems to decrease the emergence of NCDs. That is exciting and huge!
Now that I have the ear and the attention of the USAID Southeast Asia Health Mission, I intend to keep it. We are in agreement that NCDs are the future of international public health, and I believe that USAID sees the value in Integrated Behavioral Healthcare as a model for healthcare delivery systems to address NCDs. This week my team will begin data collection. I will be working in Chiang Mai’s Saraphi District Hospital and 4 sub-district “Health Promotion Hospitals” (that are similar to US primary care offices). My colleagues will also begin data collection in Vietnam and China. At the conclusion of our data collection, we will be armed with enough information to create real and lasting change in Southeast Asia and in the world. We are one step closer to my life’s mission to see Heart Disease mortalities decline due to prevention and lifestyle changes.