November 19, 2008

Expert on health education to speak on campus

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Collins O. Airhihenbuwa, an internationally known expert on health education, will talk about the relationship between culture and health at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 2, in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building courtroom on the campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Airhihenbuwa’s free lecture caps off the Department of Health Education and Recreation’s annual Robert D. Russell Symposium, which honors a seminal faculty member who died in 2005. A graduate student poster session in the law building lobby will precede the talk; a public reception will follow it.

Airhihenbuwa, head of the Department of Biobehavioral Health at The Pennsylvania State University, believes culture plays a key role in understanding health and health choices.

“To improve health, we need to understand the social and physical contexts that shape individual behavior,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“We also need to understand the location and influence of power rather than focusing solely on the individual.”

Airhihenbuwa’s talk ties in with themes from a report released in August by the World Health Organization’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health. After a three-year study, the group concluded that policies, politics and economics combine to create “unfair, unjust and avoidable causes of ill health” not just in poor countries, but in rich ones, too.

Airhihenbuwa’s most recent book, published last year, focuses on the crisis of global health and the politics of identity. He is currently wrapping up a five-year project for the National Institute of Mental Health on dealing with the stigma of HIV and AIDS in South Africa. A public health training project in Nigeria, funded by the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center, is ongoing.