September 26, 2016

Michael DeFranco, Willa Dong and Kristan Rosenthal, graduate students at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, recently have completed training as part of the UNC-IntraHealth Fellows Program.

This year marks the seventh year of partnership between the Gillings School and IntraHealth International. Since 2010, the two organizations have collaborated to offer the 10-week program, through which 30 graduate students in public health have acquired hands-on global health experience at an international nongovernmental organization.

The 2016 fellows worked side-by-side with IntraHealth experts on projects that address pressing global health concerns—including Ebola and HIV, digital health and community engagement, and how stigma and bias affect health care. UNC-IntraHealth fellows use real data and the most current research to tackle the realities of health care in low- and middle-income countries.

photo, Michael DeFranco

Michael DeFranco

Michael DeFranco, health behavior master’s student, is an emergency/trauma registered nurse, a former member of the Ebola emergency response team at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, and a former Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala.

During his 2016 fellowship, DeFranco worked closely with David Potenziani, PhD, IntraHealth’s senior informatics adviser, to delve into IntraHealth’s digital health initiatives.

“I was a digital health novice before working with the informatics team here at IntraHealth International,” DeFranco said. “The excitement of unknown limitations is helping expand and redefine the virtual boundaries of our digitized world.”

DeFranco gained hands-on experience with mHero, IntraHealth’s mobile phone-based communication system, which connects ministries of health and health workers, as well as with the organization’s interactive voice response initiatives, Global Digital Health Network messaging, and the Tanzania Health Network Programme.

[Read a blog entry by DeFranco, “Digital Health and the New World.”]
photo, Willa Dong

Willa Dong

Before pursuing a doctoral degree in health behavior at UNC, Willa Dong worked with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, where she studied the mental health needs of female sex workers.

During her fellowship, Dong worked with Jennifer Wesson, PhD, IntraHealth’s director of measurement, research and evaluation, and others to analyze data on stigma and violence among sex workers in South Sudan, so health workers can provide better HIV prevention and treatment services.

“Those of us who work in global health often think about sex workers’ health needs purely in terms of HIV prevention,” Dong says. “But many existing programs don’t have the resources to address other health concerns, or aren’t available in some regions.”

photo, Kristan Rosenthal

Kristan Rosenthal

Kristan Rosenthal served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana and a health educator in New York City before pursuing dual master’s degrees in social work and public health at UNC. For her fellowship, she examined IntraHealth’s work in Senegal and documented the organization’s approach to working with local communities—including local frontline health workers—to improve health care and make it more accessible.

“Too often, health workers are unsupported, overworked and only have access to limited resources,” said Rosenthal, a maternal and child health student. “Through building capacity at the local and national levels, IntraHealth helps countries equip their health workers with the skills and support they need to perform well and deliver high-quality health services.”

Rosenthal worked with IntraHealth’s Rebecca Kohler, MPH, Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Development, to develop a framework and case study of community engagement in global health.

[Read Rosenthal’s blog entry, “Health Systems Need More Health Workers, Better Management.”]

Over the course of the program, fellows work directly with IntraHealth’s programs around the world. Past projects have focused upon HIV/AIDS, family planning, maternal and neonatal health, gender issues, health communication and other topics.

All graduate students enrolled at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health are eligible to apply.

Learn more about fellowship applications here.

Photos by Meredith Sparks for IntraHealth International

Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or

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