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Global health students publish research article

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Global health students Rachel Wang (UCLA 2022), Omid Nikjeh (UCLA 2021) and Megan Yu (UCLA 2022). Photos provided by students.

A literature review on gastric cancer in South Korea and France written by three global health students has been published in the Journal of Student Research.

By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

UCLA International Institute, October 21, 2021 — Three UCLA global health minors have published a literature review in The Journal of Student Research that they wrote for a fall 2020 course.

Megan Yu, Rachel Wang and Omid Nikjeh co-authored “A Case Study on Gastric Cancer in South Korea versus France: Social Determinants and Risk Factors,” as a team research project for the International Institute global health course, UN Sustainable Development Goals: A Path to Health Care as a Human Right.

Taught by longtime UNICEF health official Maryam Farzanegan, the course examines two ambitious sets of targets that the UN created to focus its members on reducing poverty and promoting equitable, sustainable development worldwide: the Millennial Development Goals and their successor targets, the Sustainable Development Goals.

“I am delighted to hear the great news about this team of outstanding students, I am very proud of them,” said Farzanegan, who noted that the students had contributed greatly to class discussions last fall.

“The paper highlighted the importance of access to health care for prevention and treatment, particularly for marginalized populations,” said Farzanegan. “As students learn in the course, this is particularly true for Indigenous peoples and people living in extreme poverty worldwide.”

“The course was my first global health class at UCLA and it introduced me to the broad array of disciplines that global health encompasses,” says Megan Yu, a UCLA senior majoring in molecular, cell and developmental biology. Megan is planning to go on to a master’s in public/global health and then pursue either an M.D. or Ph.D. to become a university professor.

“We decided to focus on gastric cancer because we all had an interest in noncommunicable diseases and wanted to focus on a disease that was less well known, but highly detrimental, to bring awareness to the disease,” she adds.

Senior Rachel Wang, a human biology major who hopes to become a genetic counselor, said, “I wanted to take this class because I’m interested in comparing health care globally and how it affects people differently. I was able to learn a lot about how to research and write a literature review.”

Omid Nikjeh (UCLA 2021) majored in anthropology at UCLA and is now at USC doing a master’s degree in global medicine; he then plans to attend medical school. He said of the course, “I learned to analyze the principles of a human rights–based approach to development, to recognize healthcare as a human right and to analyze the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the most vulnerable and marginalized populations.”

For Omid, a cancer researcher, the choice of topic for the research paper was personal: he lost a close family member to the disease. “I truly believe that proper preventive care for cancer is important in order to lower increasing cancer rates globally,” he commented.

Their article in The Journal of Student Research reviews existing research on gastric cancer in South Korea and France within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals. The two countries have the highest and lowest prevalence of the cancer, respectively, in the world. The team assigned themselves one risk factor and social determinant each, then coordinated their research and writing through online means.

Their literature review concludes with recommendations for reducing the rate of gastric cancer, such as media partnerships, health campaigns and the expansion of medical services accessible to rural residents.

“We all worked on our parts as well as helped each other,” said Omid. “Overall, it was a great team effort! I am so happy and honored to have worked alongside such brilliant individuals. A special thanks to our professor Dr. Farzanegan for overseeing the project and research, as well as helping us every step of the way.”

In many ways, the paper and its publication are an outcome of the electronic communications that made higher education possible during the first 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic. “Quite surprisingly,” shared Megan, “we have not met each other in-person yet — we worked on this paper entirely remotely through Zoom!”

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