Helping ‘shift the narrative’ around health and well-being in Mississippi

September 5, 2023—Mississippi is often seen in terms of deficits, ranking at or near the bottom of the country on measures such as maternal mortality, poverty, and chronic disease prevalence. But this narrative is incomplete, according to Jocelyn Chu, director of community engaged learning and an instructor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Public health practitioners need to recognize the complexity and contradictions that exist in a place like Mississippi, she said in an August 31, 2023, Mississippi Today article. Doing so requires immersion and community partnerships.

Around five years ago, the School began work expanding its collaborations in the state into a comprehensive approach known as the Mississippi Delta Partnership in Public Health. The program includes research collaborations based on community priorities, public health training for local undergraduates, and opportunities for Harvard Chan School students.

The Partnership’s Program Director Bizu Gelaye, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard Chan School, described several ongoing collaborations in the article. For example, School researchers are working with community health centers on a maternal health initiative led by a local social worker and public health advocate. “The idea is if we can work with the policy and higher level with the Health Department but also with community health centers at the grassroots level, then we’re able to make a difference in addressing the burden of maternal morbidity and mortality,” Gelaye said.

In a blog post published August 3, Chu wrote that the School’s community partners are shifting Mississippi’s “narrative of deficit to one of strength, hope, creativity, and opportunity.”

Read the Mississippi Today article: Q&A: Harvard Chan’s Program Leadership weighs in on improving Mississippi’s public health