CDC internship ignites student’s passion for health policy

March 8, 2013 •

Ligia Duarte Botelho says her recently-completed internship with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gave her a rewarding opportunity to explore her interest in different cultures, government, and global health policy.

A junior majoring in international affairs, Botelho, who is originally from Brazil, wants to pursue a career as a diplomat in India or Thailand. She was drawn to the CDC internship because it involved the topics she wants to study in the region of the world she wants to focus on.

The CDC is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) on a global initiative to prevent birth defects and reduce child mortality in Southeast Asia. The Southeast Asian Regional Office of WHO (WHO-SEAR) is developing a strategic framework to improve health conditions for children.

“Southeast Asia is a region that is developing relatively fast,” said Botelho, who also mentors students in the Global Studies Residential Academic Program, “and with development often come humanitarian, economic, and political impacts, thus it is essential that these issues be addressed.”

Working at the CDC office in Boulder, Botelho researched and analyzed national policies that have an impact on birth defect prevention in such countries as Bangladesh, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The information she found will be used by WHO-SEAR to develop policy briefs for leaders in these countries. The goal is to reduce neural tube defects by 50 percent, thalassemia births by 50 percent, reduce the overall incidence of congenital rubella, and eliminate of congenital syphilis.

After her research was completed, Botelho wrote a report on her findings and made recommendations on how to improve some of the policies already in place in order for the countries to meet the WHO-SEAR objective.

“The internship was a great experience,” she said, “because I got to see how policy can be implemented and what the challenges are in working with other countries to improve their health policy. The integration of each country’s culture with policy was really interesting and I want to bring that into my career as a diplomat.”

Her interest in Southeast Asia began when she researched gun policies in India for a debate organized by Model United Nations on campus, a student-run organization that simulates the United Nations at conferences. Students assume the roles of ambassadors to the United Nations and debate various issues that appear on the U.N.'s agenda.

“It was fun coming up with ideas that will contribute to the strategic framework of the global initiative,” Botelho said, about the internship. “I have an ambition to change people’s lives. A career in diplomacy will allow me to combine all of my interests, allowing me to improve people’s lives, and even if through small changes, make this world more just.”