Magazine Feature / People

Global health is alumna’s focus

Karen Gieseker (BS ’87, MS ’95) is passionate about teaching, or perhaps the better word is edification. Gieseker, an assistant professor at the Institute for Public Health at Georgia State University, has traveled the world controlling disease outbreak as an epidemiologist.

Her larger focus, however, is helping people understand health in all its varied cultural manifestations. Her approach is to work locally and globally to encourage better health practices.

University of Denver biology Professor Judith Snyder says that while most of her students went on to medical school, “Karen decided to do something for the world.”

Snyder loved coaching Gieseker through her bachelor’s and master’s degrees because Gieseker had the same passion for making a difference that she experienced at Berkeley in the 1960s.

“You don’t see this as often today; that’s why she stands out,” Snyder says.

Biology Chair Bob Dores adds that as a student Gieseker “always wanted to work on projects that she felt made a difference.”

Gieseker took her current position at the Institute for Public Health in 2005. She’d already spent several years in Africa and Asia working as an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

After getting her doctorate in 2003, Gieseker joined the CDC’s Stop Transmission of Polio project in Tanzania as a data manager. Later she developed curricula and taught in field epidemiology training programs in Kenya and Singapore, where she worked with government officials on training in outbreak control and disease surveillance.

Now she takes her students with her everywhere, from downtown Atlanta’s Grady Hospital to East Africa. Last spring she and four students went to Tanzania and collected data on maternal health from rural health facilities.

“It’s not about taking Western ideas out there,” she explains. “It’s about understanding the culture and using what they have to answer their health problems.”

To help Tanzanian mothers, Gieseker explains that they couldn’t work just with the women. Husbands and village elders often control women’s access to health care, so men also had to be educated about women’s health needs.

“I’m most passionate about having my students and colleagues understand the importance of the cultural, religious and social components that make up health,” she says.

In November, Georgia State honored Gieseker with the International Excellence Award for her work abroad.

Gieseker sees her work in Africa, Asia and Georgia as all part of the same world. “Global health isn’t just over there,” she says. “It’s right here in our backyard.”

Comments are closed.