Watching the COVID-19 Health Crisis unfold in Latin America…on Twitter.

Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient, Tamara Hammerman, worked remotely as a research assistant for the ISLAC team which investigated the impact of COVID-19 on health services for women, children, and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean. This team represents a collaboration between Tulane University, The University of Santiago de Chile, Every Women and Every Child (EWEC), and the Bernard Van Leer Foundation. Tamara is a senior in the Class of 2021, pursuing a BSPH/MPH combined degree in Epidemiology with minors in Spanish and International Development.

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When I first started this research position, I was experiencing mixed emotions. It was originally my plan to conduct in-person research in Costa Rica, studying the public hospital systems and obstetric violence. Like everyone else, things did not go according to plan as we all found ourselves staying put as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis. While I was disappointed to not participate in such a meaningful opportunity, I felt incredibly grateful to be integrated in my current project shortly after. The ISLAC team represents an on-going, global collaboration between Tulane University, University of Santiago de Chile, Every Women and Every Child (EWEC), the Bernard Van Leer Foundation, and several researchers including Tulane’s Dr. Arachu Castro. The objective of the project is to carry out real-time operational quantitative and qualitative research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on issues of women’s, child, and adolescent health in 25 Latin American and Caribbean countries. In doing so, this project is meant to inform policymakers and government leaders on the necessary steps to maintain quality health care services in the midst of the pandemic. As a research assistant for the ISLAC research team, my work mainly consisted of investigating the impact of COVID-19 in four countries- Paraguay, Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador-, through news articles, scientific literature, government organizations, NGO’s, and just about any other reliable source I could find. This aspect of my job was challenging at first; while I can easily obtain news and information in the United States, I quickly came to find that accessing reliable information in my countries of focus would require more of a vetting process. Given that I had not personally visited any of these countries nor did I know someone who had, my first task was to get a better idea of the news outlets available in each of these countries. I looked to Twitter, Instagram, and other forms of social media, following government officials, local news sources, and public health organizations to try to keep as updated as possible with COVID-19 updates as they related to maternal and child health and well-being. Our research was guided by two aims- one looking at changes in health and well-being services for women and children, and the other looking at changes in domestic violence and abuse and unwanted adolescent pregnancies. I compiled information with both of these aims in mind and ultimately contributed this information to a larger group report that encompassed all of the Spanish-speaking South American countries. This group impact report required a good deal of communication, critical thinking, and flexibility due to the fact that we were all adjusting to remote-based collaboration. Following the submission of the group impact report, I compiled an additional collaborative report concerning Conditional Cash Transfer programs and their historical impacts on maternal and child health. After the trials and errors of the first report, I felt much more comfortable with the compilation of the second report.

Image of a computer screen which shows a women holding a mug near her face and taking a selfie.
EWEC interview with Dr. Arachu Castro:

Reflecting upon this experience, I think that my most significant accomplishment is that my research and findings are contributing to the entire ISLAC report, which will be utilized by the Every Woman Every Child of the United Nations and hopefully all of the countries in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region to guide policy that protects the health and well-being of women and children. It has been well established that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting vulnerable populations, and in the LAC region this very much so includes women and children.

Conducting remote research for such a large project required a good deal of flexibility and communication, which are skills that I definitely further refined by the end of the summer. Collaborating with other students and public health professionals also helped me realize that working in public health, especially during a global public health crisis, requires individuals to rise up to the circumstances in order to advocate for those being most affected. I am so grateful for this experience because it has taught me that regardless of the time and place, public health can and must continue, especially during a crisis. Working on the ISLAC project this summer has exposed me to the idea that inadequate conditions and resources and socio-behavioral determinants of health make an alarming difference in community health outcomes. The inequality seen through this pandemic has only reinforced my desire to work toward health equity throughout Latin American and within the United States. As a Changemaker, I feel proud to be a member of the ISLAC team because it represents a new way to incite social change. This team has demonstrated passion, curiosity, and problem-solving, all behind the screen of a computer. We may have been working within the confines of our physical environments, but our ability to innovate and create was not limited.

The ISLAC Website
Link to the ISLAC project website: