2020-21 Kean Fellows Adapt to COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted 11 May 2022

Many Unable to Travel for Tropical Study Sites, While Others Needed to Alter Original Plans

Kean Fellows have needed to be adaptive and tenacious the last couple of years.The Benjamin H. Kean Travel Fellowship in Tropical Medicine offers financial support to medical students involved in clinical or research electives in tropical areas. But restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic and other unforeseen challenges have forced some fellows to alter their original plans.

“The COVID pandemic has definitely impacted the Kean Fellowship program,” said Kean Fellowship Committee Chair A. Desiree LaBeaud, MD, MS, FASTMH. “Many fellows have not been able to travel, but the fellows and the committee have both been flexible in adapting projects to shifting priorities to maximize gains during the pandemic.”

2020 Kean Fellow Rebeca Vergaro Greeno, left, a fourth-year medical student at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, was forced to cancel her travel to Guatemala for research on neglected tropical diseases.

“I ended up needing to switch gears due to the pandemic,” she said. “I completed a fellowship at the HAVEN Free Clinic, Yale's student-run clinic for uninsured patients, where I worked to keep our clinic open with telehealth and hybrid services for our patients most in need of free health services.”

She also participated in various statewide advocacy efforts for undocumented immigrants, including COVID vaccine and information accessibility and Medicaid expansion to undocumented children in Connecticut.


Albert Zhou, back row, fifth from the right, with his Malawian
colleagues from the field sample collection team.
2021 Kean Fellow Albert Zhou, MD/PhD (Candidate), was able to continue his research in Malawi on RIFIN variant surface antigens in cerebral malaria infections in children, but only after altering his schedule and crossing some hurdles along the way. 

“Fortunately, the pandemic did not affect much of my original plans — aside from the fact that my experience was shortened from four to three weeks,” he said. “There were also some administrative hurdles and approvals that I had to endure with my home and away institution, which mostly surrounded COVID-19 testing/scheduling and awareness of international policies and restrictions. Despite this, I had a wonderful and enjoyable experience and simply needed to stay masked in certain settings.”


From left: Kenneth Mwehonge, Executive Director, HEPS-Uganda; Dr. Stephen Asiimwe, Program Director, Global Health Collaborative at Mbarara University of Science and Technology; Azfar Hossain; and Rhina Mushagara, Relations and Communications Manager, Global Health Collaborative at Mbarara University of Science and Technology.
The pandemic had little to do with 2021 Kean Fellow Azfar Hossain, MD (Candidate), canceling his trip to Haiti to study diarrheal disease. His plans were changed due to increasing violence in Haiti during the first half of 2021. But he did become involved in demonstrating for vaccine equity. Thanks to support from his U.S.-based mentor, Louise Ivers, MD, MPH, DTMH, FASTMH, an ASTMH member and Executive Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Global Health, Mr. Hossain was able to use his Kean Fellowship to live and work in Mbarara, Uganda for the 2021-2022 academic year. Massachusetts General has partnered with Ugandan institutions for years on a variety of health-related programs. 
While there, he also became involved in advocating for better vaccine access. “I look forward to continuing to work with and learn from Ugandan advocates pushing for global COVID-19 vaccine equity," he said.

Fortunately, travel restrictions have eased over the last 12 months, giving this year’s Kean Fellowship candidates a brighter forecast for continuing their tropical research. 

“The pandemic has showed us once again how closely connected we all are and how important global health is,” said Dr. LaBeaud, chair of the Kean Fellowship Committee. “Supporting our future leaders to ignite their global health careers with Kean Fellowships is more critical than ever.”