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Crime a public-health disaster - Yale graduate

Published:Sunday | August 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Yale graduate, 25-year-old Terrol Graham.-Contributed

Nadine Wilson, Staff Reporter

It was the 1995 hit movie Outbreak, featuring the spread of a deadly Ebola-like virus, that inspired Terrol Graham to pursue a career in public health.

But while not discounting the threat viruses like Ebola could pose to the region, the Yale School of Public Health graduate feels Jamaica's biggest public-health disaster is crime.

The 25-year-old Gates Millennium scholar has a master's in Public Health with a focus on Global Health from the Ivy League university. He also studied foreign policy, development and human rights at the University of Copenhagen Centre for African Studies in Denmark, after being named a Rotary Ambassadorial scholar in 2012 and had worked at the Jamaica West Regional Health Authority and with the United Nations Development Programme in Kingston.

"A public-health approach would focus on prevention and be complementary to other more traditional ways of addressing crime," he told The Sunday Gleaner.

"When you have a public-health problem, you look at the population that is affected by the particular disease and then you have to look at the epidemiology of it, as in, where it is coming from and what can be done about it," he said.

It's based on this assessment that he welcomes plans to merge the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force and the Anti-Corruption Branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force to create a Federal Bureau of Investigations-like agency in the country.

"Hopefully, this will do a whole lot in addressing particularly violent crime and criminal syndicates," he said.

"What I would like to see addressed first and foremost is that we have to deal with the gun violence and gender-based violence in terms of addressing rape and sexual assault," asserted Graham, who describes himself as a feminist.

Migrated to Florida

Graham grew up in Portmore, St Catherine, but migrated to Florida in 2002 after completing first form at Ardenne High School. Prior to seeing Outbreak, he had wanted to be a doctor like his uncle, who is a physician in Jamaica, but, given the devastating impact of public-health issues as were highlighted in the film, he decided to invest his energy in this area instead.

"It's a long-standing interest and it has morphed. Over the past four years, there have been different things that I have wanted to do within the realm of public health," he said.

During a frank discussion with his father, the young man was told that he would either need to work or secure scholarships to finance his studies and so, from age 15, Graham recalls working in supermarkets and fast-food restaurants to support his ambitions.

Fortunately, he had received the Joseph Gordon Scholarship which enabled him to pursue his first degree in History at Wake Forest University in Northern California. During his time at the university, he founded the 'Brothers Reaching Out' mentorship project which was geared towards enriching the lives of at-risk youths attending inner-city schools.

Graham does not feel Ebola is such a big threat to Jamaica at this point; however, he believes that caution should still be taken to prevent the deadly virus from sneaking into the country.

"I don't believe in scare tactics and I think when you look at the discussion of Ebola in most places, whether Jamaica or elsewhere, because it's such a disease that has such a high case fatality rate, people can overemphasise the threat of it," he said.

Now that he has achieved his goal of securing his master's in Public Health, Graham's next big target is to travel to 30 countries before he turns 30. So far, he has gone to 18. He is also intent on making his contribution to helping to strengthen Jamaica's public-health system, which in his estimation is not bad, considering the limited resources in the country.

"Of course, there is always more to be done in terms of doing things more efficiently, but when I look at HIV in particular, because that is what I know most about, I think we have been able to maintain the prevalence rate in terms of it being fairly constant over the past 10 years," he said.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com