New director to boost students' international health experience

8 March 2010

The Faculty of Health Sciences has appointed Dr Alex Broom as Director of the new initiative 'FHS Abroad,' which seeks to give students exposure to invaluable international professional experience in a developing country as part of their degree.

Dr Alex Broom
Dr Alex Broom

Over the past six years Dr Broom has developed a highly regarded program of research in international health and development with a focus on the traditional health systems of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Brazil, and in particular, their interplay with biomedical healthcare services.

"Whilst very different countries culturally, politically and economically, they share common concerns regarding the shifting roles of traditional knowledge in the context of the increased presence of western 'scientific' medicine," comments Dr Broom.

Drawing on his own experiences, Broom feels that FHS Abroad will play an important role in providing all health sciences students with the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of the international context of health, including global health priorities, systems, beliefs, and their impact on individuals and communities.

Broom's previous research has focused on cancer care in India and Sri Lanka, examining issues surrounding access to care according to gender, economic and environmental factors, and the interplay of biomedical and traditional, complementary and alternative medicines (TCAM).

"In India we found vast social inequalities in regards to therapeutic trajectories and an intermingling of access to care and complex ideas about social value," said Dr Broom. "The marginal status of women in particular persists as a key factor in shaping the landscapes of cancer care in India."

His work in Sri Lanka highlighted widespread support for traditional practices amongst cancer patients, and provided insight into potential benefits and limitations of combining multiple health systems within the Sri Lankan context.

Broom has also embarked on a study of the role of traditional medicine with type 2 diabetes in Brazil - an interesting case given Brazil's long history of traditional medicine and current Government examination of its role in the health care system.

"Health care is currently high profile in Brazil and recent Government-led initiatives are producing policies favouring primary health care over technology-dependent hospitals. As part of this, the greater integration of TCAM into State provision is under active consideration, not least as recognition of culturally diverse practices of Brazil's different ethnic groups."

Having just returned from a fieldwork expedition in India, Dr Broom's current work is a collaborative study working with anthropologist Dr Assa Doran of ANU to investigate relationships between masculinity and civil violence in India.

Early findings suggest that communal violence like the case of the Gujarat riots is having a profound impact on the health of these communities, particularly in regards to men's mental health issues.

"Inter-ethic and religion tensions persist within these communities, and much work is needed to move towards constructive conversations and reconciliation," concludes Dr Broom

As a sociologist specialising in health, Dr Broom is adamant that all health professionals should have an understanding and appreciation of global health issues and cultural differences.

Dr Broom works closely with academics from the Australian National University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka, and the University of Campinas, Brazil.

To find out more about FHS Abroad come along to the Student Information Session on Tuesday 16 March from 12pm in E101.

Contact: Alex Broom

Phone: 02 9351 9373