Columbia Medical School Students in Chile Showcase Research

Four Columbia graduate students presented their research being performed in conjunction with Universidad Mayor’s CISS.

August 31, 2023

Four graduate students from the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) have presented the research they are doing in Chile, in conjunction with Universidad Mayor’s Research Center on Society and Health (CISS, according to its acronym in Spanish).

Annika Hogan, a Master of Public Health (MPH) candidate at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, reviewed her work researching “Social support and mental health of Haitian migrants,” under the direction of CISS professor Teresita Rocha. Over the past years, increased migration flow in Latin America has led to new patterns and new South-South migration trends.

The mental health of migrants is increasingly being prioritized as they are exposed to numerous stressors pre-, during and post-transit: they have been found to have higher prevalence of anxiety, PTSD, psychosis, and depression. However, factors like social support have been found to mitigate effects on mental and physical health.

In researching the role of social support among Haitian migrants living in Santiago, Chile and Tijuana, Mexico, Hogan’s objective was to understand the role of social support in those migrants at different points in the migration trajectory, with a literature review on current understanding of social support in migrant populations. With this information, she would then use multivariable analyses to examine if social support acts as a protective factor against poor mental health outcomes.

In turn, Conor Rork, as part of the Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons’ Global and Population Health program, researched “Trends in Chilean perinatal outcomes” under the direction of CISS professor Estela Blanco.

It has been suggested that complications of preterm birth were the leading cause of death in children below five years of age globally in 2016. Meanwhile, 80% of neonatal deaths occur in low birth-weight newborns, influenced by multiple factors such as previous pregnancies, maternal age and socioeconomic status, health conditions, and environment.

Rork, on his first trip to South America, performed a retrospective descriptive analysis of spatial and temporal trends in perinatal health outcomes in Chile from 1993 to 2018, and in demographic factors affecting perinatal health outcomes during the same period.

For her part, Shehzil Shah researched “Alcohol, retirement, and depression” under the guidance of CISS professor Antonia Díaz-Valdés, to look into the effect of loneliness and depression on older adult quality of life. She used data from the US Health and Retirement Study, the Korean Longitudinal Study of Aging (2014), the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (2015), and the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe.

Loneliness is a significant risk factor for depression, especially among older adults, and is associated with increased mortality and morbidity. Meanwhile, the global population over 65 years old is increasing faster than any other age group.

Shah said her research question was: “Do individualism, sexual equality, and indulgence moderate the association between loneliness and risk of depression?”

Finally, Andy Turner, Mailman MPH candidate in Epidemiology, looked into “Household networks of descent, marriage, and economic dependency,” under the guidance of CISS professors Nicolás Montalva and Diego Palacios.

With the goal of exploring the kinship networks in households in Chile and how they are associated with the networks of economic dependency and support within them, he proposes two hypotheses:

  • That the typology of household structures obtained from empirical data will differ from the unipersonal, nuclear, extended data that is traditionally employed in census calcifications.
  • That resource allocation within a household prioritizes kin over non-kin, to younger members over older, and to men over women.

“My intentions were to improve my understanding of some advanced biostatistics methods, such as social network analysis, and to increase my ability to speak Spanish,” he says. “I will come away with new tools that I can use in my research in the future. In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to work and learn from other Chilean students and connect with new friends outside of the university.”

CISS forms part of a program that receives cohorts of CUMC students each year, resulting from a memorandum of understanding signed between Mailman and Universidad Mayor in 2021.