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Student Spotlight

Maria Garcia Quesada, MSPH '19

International Health, Global Disease Epidemiology and Control Program

Maria Garcia Quesada

In 2018, the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health awarded Maria Garcia Quesada a Global Health Established Field Placement to help fund her master’s practicum. Every year, the Center offers awards of up to $3,500 for Johns Hopkins students to work overseas at a Hopkins-affiliated global health program in low- and middle-income countries.

Maria worked on two projects led by Dr. Stefan Baral from the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights: 

  • Leveraging Adaptive Implementation Strategies to Achieve Universal Coverage of Antiretroviral Treatment in Senegal
  • Ending Aids in West Africa (#EAWA) project, in collaboration with FHI360 and NGO Enda Santé.

She spent about 5 months working in Senegal, Togo, and Burkina Faso. Recently I had a chance to speak with her about her experience in the Field Placement program and to find out what she’s doing now.

Can you describe the projects you worked on as part of your Field Placement Award?
In Senegal I worked on a study that aimed to improve patient adherence to antiretroviral treatment, or ART, among people living with HIV. The intervention consisted of assigning a case manager to each patient, who would then guide the patient through their treatment plan and help them identify and overcome barriers to treatment. The study is looking to evaluate whether this intervention improves people’s adherence to ART as compared to the Senegalese standard of care, and to assess how feasible and cost-effective it would be to scale up.

I also spent several weeks in Togo and Burkina Faso supporting the #EAWA project, which aimed to improve HIV care among key populations, including men who have sex with men, sex workers, and transgender people, all of whom bear a disproportionate burden of the HIV epidemic. In collaboration with our partners, I helped implement a capacity assessment of local HIV organizations. The goal was to identify organizations’ needs in different areas, ranging from management to evaluation, to then inform the development of a training curriculum that would provide them with tools to function more efficiently and reach their full potential. It was a great opportunity to meet local NGOs and community leaders who support the community in a variety of ways, from clinical and testing services to social and emotional support. 

I had the opportunity to participate in many of the planning and decision-making meetings for both of these projects with our Baltimore- and Dakar-based teams, as well as with our partners at Enda Santé and FHI 360. Through this experience I was exposed firsthand to the importance of building relationships and trust, within an organization, with partners, and with the community, for a program to be successful. 

What are you working on now? 
When I returned to Baltimore, I started working with Dr. Maria Knoll and Dr. Kyla Hayford from the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) on the Pneumococcal Serotype Replacement and Distribution Estimation (PSERENADE) project, which is a collaboration with the WHO and PAHO. The goal of this project is to evaluate the global impact of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV) on invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD), which can manifest as pneumonia or meningitis and is a leading cause of death among children under the age of five. To ensure a comprehensive set of data from Latin America are included in the global analyses, I was hired to help gather and analyze data from that region. 

After graduating at the end of third term, I’ve continued to work on the project. I’m currently traveling in Chile and Argentina for the PSERENADE project working with each country’s public health institutes and national reference labs (similar to agencies like the CDC in the US) to help analyze the IPD surveillance data before and after pneumococcal vaccine introduction. While the vaccine has been vastly successful in reducing disease among children, it hasn’t worked exactly the same way in every country and region. These analyses will help us better understand the impact of the vaccine in these two countries and contribute to regional and global analyses. We hope the results of this project will help inform future vaccine development and vaccine policy. 

Any advice for new students?
Keep an open mind, get to know professors, and reach for any opportunities that come your way. Additionally, get to know your cohort. Every person in my GDEC cohort has inspired, taught, and supported me in a million different ways. They were my team and my backbone through the program, and I’m sure will be the most incredible friends and professional network to have going into this field.