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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Partners In Health Engage hosts Valeria Macias, its first campus-wide speaker

William Tong/The Daily Northwestern
Valeria Macias presents her experiences of the healthcare system as the executive director of Partners In Health.

Northwestern’s branch of Partners In Health Engage hosted its first campus-wide event Friday at University Hall, featuring keynote speaker Valeria Macias. 

Partners In Health Engage is a global health and social injustice organization dedicated to providing high-quality health care to address the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of those in need. NU’s chapter of PIH — founded last spring — is the first branch in Illinois. 

Macias, executive director of the Mexican branch of PIH, touched on the inaccessibility to health systems in underserved communities, talked about obstetric violence — acts by healthcare workers that cause harm to someone who is pregnant or giving birth — and discussed social justice through healthcare in the hourlong presentation. 

“Social medicine is about thinking not only about the disease, but it’s thinking about all the social detriments of health,” Macias said. 

As a medical student, Macias said she faced pressure to detach emotionally from her patients. Macias had to unlearn this ideal through her work as a clinician in Chiapas, Mexico, she said, rebuilding her entire medical education to ensure she was providing equitable patient care. 

Weinberg sophomore Evgeny Stolyarov, a member of PIH, found the discussion on doctor-patient relationships relevant. 

“It was really interesting to hear how the reality on the grounds and the things that are taught in medical school differ so much,” Stolyarov said. “You have doctors who are coming out who don’t necessarily approach health care with the idea that patients face systems of oppression.”

Macias also highlighted PIH’s maternal and child healthcare program, which focuses on caring for women and their families in underserved communities and promoting the right to health, safety and autonomy.

The initiative will ensure healthcare providers work closely with obstetric nurses and midwives to try and bring a dignified model to deliveries, according to Macias. 

She said the program was designed to combat obstetric violence, which includes over-medicalizing, forced sterilizations without consent and prejudice against the mother. These practices occur when physicians prioritize their own comfort over that of their patients, Macias added. 

Macias reflected on the procedure of sterilizing mothers during deliveries in the obstetric care unit in Mexico, noting that it was often done without patients’ consent. 

Weinberg sophomore Stacy Yoon, an organizer for NU’s chapter of PIH, said she was inspired to get involved with PIH during her first-year seminar with anthropology Prof. Adia Benton. 

The course examined the inequitable way healthcare is distributed, perpetuating socioeconomic issues. Benton structured the class around the thoughts of the PIH co-founder Paul Farmer and aimed to encapsulate the mission of the PIH engagement. 

“I’ve always been interested in global health and equity, so I went looking to join (an organization) that already existed, but they didn’t have any at the time,” Yoon said. “I really wanted to do this, so I might as well just go in headfirst.”

Friday’s event is the first of many this year. The organization is projected to fundraise for the Maternal Center of Excellence in Sierra Leone and advocate for legal initiatives that improve community health worker access.

Yoon said PIH is driven by a core philosophy centered around healthcare as a human right.

“Health care is a right,” Yoon said. “It should never be denied, regardless of who you are or where you are. That’s something that we unequivocally stand by.”

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Twitter: @betsy_lecy

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