Travel helps me better understand and appreciate the world around me.  Public health has become my passion. Follow me as I learn to bring the love of travel and public health together through my Master of Public Health field experience in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

This adventure will begin on March 2nd as I begin my two day trek from East Tennessee State University to my temporary home for two months.  There will be many lessons learned, knowledge gained, and many pictures to share with you throughout this experience.  I look forward to sharing this journey with you.

March 4, 2016 | Relevant Magazine

Considerations of contraceptives in light of the Zika virus
Zika Virus
From ancient times until today, childbirth remains one of the most fearful and oftentimes painful moments in a woman’s life. Complications from pregnancy to postpartum, even today, can mean death for both mother and child. In fact, over 300,000 women die every year from preventable, treatable complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and for those newborns whose mother does not survive, they are 10 times more likely not to survive their first two years.

And now, the epidemic of the Zika virus is bringing issues of maternal and infant health to the front and center in many developing countries. Zika can be spread from a mother to a fetus, and is know to cause a birth defect known as microcephaly.

To date, the Zika virus has been associated with over 4,000 cases of microcephaly in Brazil and Latin America. More than 4 million people are expected to contract the virus within the next year.

Already, the CDC issued advisories for the Americas calling for postponing travel to the region, mosquito bite avoidance and safe sex practices. The Public Health Agency of Canada is even suggesting that women wait at least two months after travel before trying to get pregnant. Even Pope Francis has condoned the use of contraception during this period.

But what about the women who live in the undeveloped parts of those countries where Zika is spreading? Hundreds of thousands of women in many developing countries may not have access to quality health care or the proper prenatal counseling and care during and after pregnancy and childbirth.

More than 220 million women around the world say they want to avoid getting pregnant again but lack the information or the access to contraceptives to do so. This doesn't just affect maternal health during outbreaks such as Zika; studies show that if the woman’s first debut of pregnancy is at or after 20 years of age, she is five times more likely to survive complications of pregnancy and childbirth than someone 15 years of age or younger.

Contraceptives can be a tricky subject for Christians. The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally opposed contraceptives, encouraging parishioners to practice natural family planning instead. Some protestants also personally oppose the use of contraceptives, while others see no problem with them. But, whether a woman wants to space out her pregnancies using natural family planning or a form of contraceptives, access to both information and contraceptives is limited in many Latin American countries. Prescriptions are required for birth control, pills are overpriced and the supplies are often not stocked properly in local pharmacies.

And once a woman gets pregnant, she may not have access to proper care during and after childbirth. It is also important to note the high rates of sexual violence, particularly in the Central America-4 region (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua). Many women are victims of rape, causing unintended pregnancies. For instance, in El Salvador, unintended pregnancies account for over half of the pregnancies across the nation.

In the face of the Zika epidemic, sexual violence and maternal mortality, what is our responsibility as Christians in terms of advocacy for these women, girls and mothers-to-be?

In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel’s mother offers him some guidance in his ruling: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor." We are called to advocate on behalf of vulnerable populations; we are called to provide a compassionate response to individuals in the face of violence, disease and extreme poverty. And in this case, part of the response may be to advocate for voluntary access to affordable, modern contraceptives so women can safely time, space and delay having children if they wish to do so. This should also include good counseling about natural family planning, or fertility awareness, if that is the desired method of choice.

Times of emergency rouse compassionate responses and a sense of urgency to address the perilous situation. In this situation, the Zika virus provides a clarion call to rethink the critical role of contraceptives in the lives of mothers and children and families not only in Latin America, but also around the world. Not only can contraceptives be life saving, but they also allow for a family to flourish—to emerge out of poverty, to feed every child, to send children to school and to allow moms to go back to work.

Let’s use this moment to reopen the discussion around family planning (not including abortion) for women in developing nations. Our U.S. government spends less than 1 percent of our budget on foreign assistance, and less than a fraction of that attends to maternal and child health and healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies. As Christians, this is a moment to speak up on behalf of mothers and children worldwide to protect or increase this funding. For less than a penny to the dollar, lives are saved—and changed.

This article originally appeared in Relevant Magazine

"One may observe in one's travels to distant countries the feelings of recognition and affiliation that link every human being to every other human being." – Aristotle

At the age of nineteen I scribbled this quote on the inside cover of a journal I kept while interning at an HIV/AIDS clinic in Kampala, Uganda - a one month experience that I, in my naïvety, had assumed would shine light on answers to the world's problems and provide me with direction in my future studies and career choices. Not so shockingly, I returned home with more questions than answers about the all-too-exhaustive list of social injustices in this world and how I could possibly play a role.
The Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington DC, holds a monthly speakers luncheon for Congressional staff interested in the various topics related to foreign assistance. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues.

Feb. 29, 2016 | The Hill

Senator Bill Frist water

As the 2016 primaries unfold, it’s time for candidates of both parties to focus on expanding the big-hearted policies that have made this nation so exceptional.

In recent years, the most effective of those policies has been global health — that is, putting U.S. resources to work saving lives in developing nations by spreading health treatments that work here at home. In a study for the Bipartisan Policy Center last November, we showed how the largest global health project in history, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), has not only saved millions of lives but also improved America’s national security.

Under PEPFAR, launched under former President George W. Bush and enhanced under President Obama, with bipartisan support in Congress over more than a decade, 9.5 million men, women and children, mainly in Africa, are receiving lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs. Some 68 million have gotten HIV testing and counseling, 5.5 million orphans and vulnerable children have received care and support, and 190,000 new healthcare workers have been trained. In addition, our study found that in PEPFAR countries, political instability and violence have fallen 40 percent (compared to just 3 percent in equivalent non-PEPFAR countries), while economic growth has increased — and so has America’s reputation.

Now, a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, released in January, has discovered that, while Americans are proud of the accomplishments of programs like PEPFAR, a majority (53 percent) believe we are already “doing enough to improve health in developing countries.” And a majority (55 percent) believe that “spending more money won’t make much difference in improving health in developing countries.”

Those are disturbing statistics. They stray far from reality. The truth is that the U.S. has the innovation and the resources to put an end to rampant deaths not only from AIDS but from such scourges as malaria, tuberculosis and hepatitis C. Based on the PEPFAR experience, we have proof that health will be improved dramatically — and Americans themselves will benefit.

The good news is that the Kaiser study provides important guidance on how to persuade Americans that our nation should do more. The starting point is better education about global health.

The public is woefully misinformed not just about the success of U.S. programs but about their cost. The Kaiser survey, taken in December, found that, on average, those polled believed that 31 percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid (including health programs). The actual figure is less than 1 percent (correctly estimated by just 3 percent of those polled). Researchers discovered that, when respondents were informed of the correct spending on foreign aid, their support of increased spending on global health improved significantly.

Actual spending on global health by the U.S. government has been steady at between $9.2 billion and $10.2 billion per year since 2009, with the exception of 2015, when an additional $3.7 billion was spent to stem the Ebola crisis that directly threatened the health of Americans. For 2016, global health represents just 0.2 percent of federal spending, or about $10 billion out of $4.1 trillion. Another way of saying this is that just $32 out of the average American’s tax bill will go to global health programs — with about $19 for fighting AIDS, $2 for malaria, $1 for tuberculosis and $2 for maternal and child health.

Kaiser’s national study also asked respondents to give the most important reason for spending U.S. tax dollars to improve global health. In first place, by far, was “because it’s the right thing to do,” chosen by 46 percent. That’s no surprise. This is the most benevolent country in the world. When our 43rd president announced PEPFAR in 2003, he said, “Seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many.”

Our humanitarian instincts are the bedrock of global health programs, but the Kaiser study also pointed to other strong reasons to spend federal money: “to improve our diplomatic relationships,” “to help ensure national security,” “to help the U.S. economy,” and “to improve the U.S.’s image around the world.” In total, these four justifications topped the list for 48 percent of respondents. Another practical reason to improve health abroad is to prevent diseases like Ebola and the Zika virus from spreading through our own population.

As the presidential campaign progresses, we believe that Americans will want to hear candidates appeal to what Abraham Lincoln referred to as “the better angels of our nature.” Wiping out diseases in poorer countries is simply the right thing to do. But Americans are pragmatic people, too, and, as the Kaiser research shows, we want our contributions to be both cost-effective and beneficial to our own nation as well.

As our research has shown, programs like PEPFAR meet all of those tests: humanitarian, practical and self-serving. In this election season, Americans must require candidates for public office who demonstrate the leadership we will need to ensure global — and national — health.

Daschle served in the Senate from 1987 to 2005 and as Senate majority leader from 2001 to 2003. Frist, a physician, served in the Senate from 1995 to 2007 and as Senate majority leader from 2003 to 2007.

This post first appeared in The Hill.

I have never been so thankful for a shower! I am happy to say that after a two day journey and a lot of jet lag I have made it to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I arrived late last night around 3AM here to meet wonderful hosts who welcomed me to this beautiful city. I can honestly say I had no idea what to expect, or what it would look like coming in. I feel very comfortable here so far and have enjoyed walking (not too far) around my apartment.
Since the 1990's, the U.S. foreign aid budget has helped cut global poverty in HALF. Yet, foreign aid comprises less than 1% of the entire U.S. budget. Foreign aid isn't just a humanitarian cause - when global health improves and poverty is eliminated, citizens of the U.S. benefits from greater global security and a thriving global economy.

Feb. 22, 2016 | The Christian Post

Zika Virus

As of February 1, the World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus, largely across Central and South America and the Carribbean, a "public health event of international concern." They believe over 4 million people may become infected in 2016. The virus has been associated with over 4,000 cases of microcephaly, and doctors are currently studying the link between the severe birth defect and the infectious disease in Brazil and other countries.

Once discovered, the Pan American Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued announcements across the Americas calling for postponing travel to these areas, avoiding mosquito bites, safe sex practices, and in some countries, for women to consider delaying pregnancy for the next two years.

For this last call to action, addressing family planning for women, there are myriad obstacles. Over half the pregnancies in El Salvador, for example, are unintended; there are high rates of sexual violence; and there is limited access to contraceptives due to both "gatekeepers" who may not allow for access to contraceptives to women as well as legitimate "stock outs" where modern methods of contraceptives are simply unavailable.

This is a crisis.

Why did it take the Zika virus to alert the world to the need for women to have access to contraceptives and the obstacles therein?

Jenny Dyer HeadshotOver 220 million women around the world say that they want to either delay their next pregnancy or avoid becoming pregnant, but they have neither the information nor the resources to do so. While the U.S. leads the world in provision of access to contraceptives, we still are woefully short of meeting this need.

Each year over 300,000 women die from complications during birth and pregnancy; and 5.9 million children die before their fifth birthday each year. One way to improve maternal health and reduce child mortality is simply access to family planning, or healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies (HTSP).

Many women in developing countries are married by the time they are sixteen. If they become pregnant in their late teens, these young women are three times more likely to die than if they could wait until after twenty years of age to have their first child. Timing is critical in the debut of the first pregnancy to save the life of the mother. And when a mother dies during childbirth, the newborn is ten times more likely to die within two years of his or her mother's death. And if she can just space her pregnancies three years apart, the child is twice as likely to survive the newborn stage.

If a young woman can have access to healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, she can finish her secondary education, prepare for a job, and set up a strong foundation for a thriving family later in life. She can choose to have fewer children that she and her husband can afford to house, feed, and send to school. Planning a family is critical to undermining a cycle of poverty to create a new, virtuous cycle of sustainability.

Without access to contraceptives, maternal mortality, infant mortality, and child survival issues are realities millions of families must face. Alongside these issues, those living in extreme poverty without access to adequate nutrition, including vitamin deficiencies, during pregnancy and post-pregnancy, can lead to stunting and lagging brain development among children. To put this into perspective, this slowed growth currently affects over 165 million children worldwide.

Finally, access to contraceptives in developing nations is a means to combatting the orphanhood crisis, human and sex trafficking, and prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

The Zika virus is just one more reason women, not just across the Americas but worldwide, should have access to contraceptives and the knowledge to better time and space pregnancies for her life, the life of her children, and the flourishing of her family. Even Pope Francis has noted that contraceptives could be used to slow the spread of the disease.

Our U.S. government spends less than a fraction of 1% of our budget on international, voluntary family planning for these women, not including abortion as prohibited by the Helms Amendment. We should urge our members of Congress to protect and increase this funding for voluntary access to contraceptives and counseling to save the lives of millions of women and children around the world.

Jenny Eaton Dyer is the Executive Director for Hope Through Healing Hands and directs the Faith-based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide which seeks to enable women and couples in developing nations to determine the timing and spacing of their pregnancies in a manner that includes the voluntary use of methods for preventing pregnancy—not including abortion—that are harmonious with their values and religious beliefs.

This op-ed originally appeared in The Christian Post.

Feb. 22, 2016 | The Tennessean

Senator Bill FristOf the thousands of heart and lung operations I have performed, the most common cause of the underlying disease in these patients was a single voluntary behavior: smoking.

That tragedy is what Tennessee Quit Week (Feb. 22-28) is all about.

Smoking absolutely leads to a shorter, poorer-quality life. It more than doubles a person’s risk of stroke or heart disease, and increases the risk of lung cancer by 25 times!

Each year it causes more deaths than automobile accidents, firearm-related injuries, HIV, illegal drug use and alcohol abuse combined.

The good news is that most smokers want to stop, and there are effective tools to help. The benefits are almost immediate: Within two days of smoking cessation, nerve endings regenerate. In two weeks, circulation improves; after just one year, the risk for heart attack is cut in half.

Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of premature mortality and morbidity, yet one of five Tennessee adults smokes regularly and one of nine adolescents self-report smoking.

That’s why smoking prevention and cessation is the first priority of the new grassroots, community collaborative NashvilleHealth.

Nashville's smoking rates are higher than the national average and that of all our peer cities. We must aggressively address this most preventable cause of premature disability and death.

Governor Bill Haslam has proclaimed the week of Feb. 22 as “Tennessee Quit Week." This effort comes on the heels of a new report from the American Lung Association that found Tennessee flunking tobacco control, receiving a “C” grade for smoke-free air and “F's” for tobacco prevention and cessation funding, access to cessation services and tobacco taxes.

That's our clarion call to action.

First, communities must insist that state government more adequately fund programs on tobacco cessation that we know work.

In 2014 the Haslam administration and state legislature allocated $15 million over three years to county health departments to implement tobacco cessation programs locally.

This funding has a lifesaving impact, but it is too little. The Volunteer State spends just 9 percent of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends, even though it annually brings in over $400 million in tobacco-related revenue.

Second, we know that secondhand smoke kills. Yet in Tennessee, local municipalities are not permitted to strengthen the state’s smoke-free laws in their region. Communities should be empowered to make parks, playgrounds and venues like Nashville’s new Ascend Amphitheater smoke-free zones.

The CDC reminds us there is “no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure; even brief exposure can be harmful to health.”

The Metro Public Health Department (MPHD) is already working hard to provide tools and education to those who need help quitting, and NashvilleHealth is happy to join in.

The MPHD will offer to the public the American Lung Association’s “Freedom From Smoking” cessation course beginning the last week of February. Its “Breathe Easy” campaign is wisely encouraging multi-unit housing to go smoke-free. And it will be rolling out the “Baby and Me Tobacco Free” program, which provides quit assistance to pregnant women and new mothers this month.

What can individuals do?

  • Call the Tobacco Quit Line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669). You can talk to a counselor who will help create a plan tailored specifically to you, free of charge. If indicated they will provide you with two weeks of free nicotine patches to get you started.
  • Attend the Metro Public Health Department’s new “Freedom from Smoking” quit course; call 615-340-5334 or contact [email protected]
  • Visit the “It’s Quittin’ Time in Tennessee" online calendar and resource page.
  • Share personal stories and innovative ideas on how our community might better tackle tobacco prevention and cessation with us directly at

No amount of prescriptions, operations or doctor’s office visits will correct for our unhealthy behavior. Let's together make Nashville healthier today, by wiping out smoking.

Dr. William H. Frist is a nationally acclaimed heart and lung transplant surgeon. He served as U.S. senator from Tennessee from 1995 to 2007 and as former U.S. Senate majority leader from 2003 to 2007.

This op-ed originally appeared in The Tennessean.

Hope Through Healing Hands was proud to be a key sponsor this past weekend at the Mobilizing Medical Missions Conference (M3) at Lakewood Church in Houston, TX. At the conference, doctors, nurses, and other global healthcare professionals and advocates gathered from all over the world. Led by Paul Osteen MD, Lakewood hosted over 1,600 people gathering for the inaugural year of the M3 conference. The crowd was charged with the aim to Be Inspired. Connect With Others. Find Your Mission.

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