The Delegation for Friendship Among Women landed in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia, and already has an exciting schedule of meetings with interesting and influential people in areas of healthcare and government. But it’s not all work and no play. We have also visited fascinating cultural sites. Here’s a sampling of our first couple of days together.
Tuesday, September 6
- Visit the Public Health Institute, Ministry of Health and Sports of Mongolia to learn about how Vitamin D may be the key to prevention of tuberculosis in children:
Counterpart Meeting with Professor Ganmaa Davaasambuu, MD PhD, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health
by Linda Hammett OryThe Delegation for Friendship Among Women was honored to be welcomed by Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health Professor Gaanma Davaasambuu and her team. Professor Gaanma met us at our hotel and brought us to the Mongolian Health Initiative, her Ulaanbataar research lab office. The Delegation was warmly greeted by the staff and the Mongolian custom of being offered a sip of milk tea as we entered the office.
During this first “counterpart” meeting of our journey, Gaanma and her colleagues provided a fascinating overview of their work which will hopefully result in helping to combat tuberculosis, one of the most devastating diseases affecting Mongolia, especially its children, as Mongolia has the highest incidence of TB among children.
Rather than working to find a treatment for the disease once it manifests, Professor Ganmaa’s team is researching the use of Vitamin D for prevention through a double-blind study following 9000 children ages nine to thirteen over three years. Preliminary studies have already suggested that a deficiency of Vitamin D, which is actually a hormone, can lead to the development tuberculosis. During our meeting, we learned about the tremendous number of logistical details involved in implementing their study. Throughout the three years, the team will monitor 415 variables.
To insure the validity of their results, the Mongolian Health Initiative team is held to the high research standards of their funders, including Harvard University. While the study is not yet complete, there is strong evidence from preliminary studies that suggests adding Vitamin D to the diet through supplements can prevent tuberculosis from ever developing. If the results are confirmed in this long-term study, taking a preventative approach to tuberculosis could be a much more cost-effective and successful solution to lowering the rate of this devastating disease.
In addition to working on a method of prevention, the team is simultaneously educating parents, training doctors and researchers, and conducting sub-studies in areas such as dental health.
Beyond the inspiring work of Ganmaa Davaasambuu and the Mongolian Health Initiative, the Delegation women were impressed with the education levels and passion of her team to help their fellow countrymen, women and children. There are around 80 people currently working in the lab. Several of the staff members we met were educated abroad at prestigious American universities such as Harvard, Berkley and Purdue. Rather than staying in the United States where they had many opportunities, these young people chose to return home where they believed they could have the greatest impact.
The Delegation for Friendship Among Women was energized by this first meeting, and they are looking forward to the rest of the women they will meet during Mongolian adventure.
Wednesday, September 7
- Visit Gandan Monastery where we received a blessing for our trip.
Summary of Visit to Gandan Monastery
by Mary Wallace
What an exciting way to begin our first day in Mongolia by touring the Gandan Monastery right in the heart of Ulaanbaatar. Buddhism was introduced to Mongolia from India more than 2,000 years ago and since its first arrival in Mongolia it has experienced periods of decline and revival. During Soviet rule, it became illegal to practice Buddhism, and thousands of Mongolian Buddhist monks were killed and many temples were destroyed. After Mongolian Independence from Soviet control in 1990, the practice of religion returned to the country and the majority of Mongolians consider themselves Buddhist. In the Great Assembly Hall we witness a loud and colorful ceremony taking place with chanting and drumming monks in their deep burgundy red robes. We continued our visit to several different buildings in the complex where we are all struck by the beauty of colorful Buddhas, textiles and various paper maché figures that are intentionally frightening, used for protection against evil spirits. What a wonderful way to begin our time in Mongolia.
- Browse the Mary and Martha fair trade store which features Mongolian-made handcrafts.
- Walk through Chinggis square which honors Chinggis Kahn.
- Tour National History Museum led by the energetic and engaging Robin Charpentier, an expert in Mongolian history.
- Attend U.S. Embassy briefing with Manny Micaller, Deputy Chief of Mission.
- Welcomed to embassy reception hosted at the Manny Micaller residence and included 30 community leaders in healthcare, arts, medicine, education, and government.
Everyone ended the day feeling enthusiastic, jet-lagged, and looking forward to our next day’s events.