When CPHHS alum Seth Wolpin begins his journey through the mountaintops of South Asia, he’s not just stepping into a trip of a lifetime – he’s putting one foot forward toward a movement to improve public health for children in Nepal.
Throughout the nearly three-month trek beginning in April, Seth and three others will raise funds for Wide Open Vistas – a non-profit organization Seth created that helps improve education and health outcomes for children in Nepal.
Seth, who has gotten to know families in Nepal through his various journeys including a successful climb on Mt. Everest, says this effort is just the beginning of implementing a public health program.
“It is hard not to be in the mountains in Nepal and not to be affected by the working and living conditions of porters,” he says. “They may not be the largest population, but they are in a very vulnerable position and share a disparate burden of disease and injury. These are the hallmarks of a public health problem.”
He says after realizing many porters (a person hired to carry belongings for others) carry double loads and work endless days just so they can put their kids through school, he decided to conduct research and raise money to help offset those educational costs.
“It started with helping seven children of porters I know, and hopefully will continue to grow,” he says. “The bulk of donations from this trek will go directly to educational efforts, and some will go to a research fund managed by colleagues at Dhulikhel Community Hospital, which is doing really neat public health research with extremely limited funding.”
Seth says any and all donations help – just $10 will send a child to school for a month. His team’s goal is to raise $5,000.
“Why not invest our energies in population-level programs that prevent disease and injury from occurring in the first place?”
The group plans on possibly beginning with a short “shakedown trek” in early April. Then, after traveling to the eastern border of Nepal, Seth and his team hope to officially start their trek around April 20 and cover approximately 1,000 miles over nearly 70 days at an average altitude of 13,500 feet with high passes reaching around 20,000 feet. They will cover the distance with a combination of trekking, climbing and running.
“I love long, linear, human-powered journeys,” he says. “I love the Himalayas, and I love doing something new. We were drawn to this trek because it represents one of the longest linear footpaths in the world. There are only a few rough roads and almost no engines for 1,000 miles.”
Anyone interested in supporting Seth’s initiative can follow his journey through www.greathimalayatraverse.org – where a satellite transponder carried by the team will show their progress every 10 minutes on a map. The also plan on sending a short update at the end of each day that will appear on the map, Facebook and Twitter.
Seth actively leads treks, runs and climbs in Nepal and on Kilimanjaro for S2Mountaineering with a focus on trekking and climbing expeditions tailored to individual safety and performance.
His passion for adventure travel began during high school when he backpacked from Hong Kong to Portugal, and his desire to improve public health was sparked after working as a registered nurse.
“Ninety-nine percent of what we spend is on treatment and 1 percent on prevention – which is upside down,” he says. “Why not invest our energies in population-level programs that prevent disease and injury from occurring in the first place?”
After earning an MPH in 1999 and a PhD in Public Health in 2004 at Oregon State, he began working to answer that question through his current position as a clinical associate professor at the University of Washington. He’s conducted two research studies funded by the National Institute of Health on patient-centered technologies and has completed survey work on high-altitude porters who work in the Khumbu Valley leading up to Mt. Everest. He’ll be assessing their knowledge, attitudes and practices and hopes to build tailored interventions to help improve health outcomes.
“What I learned in school were critical skills in evaluating evidence and also building new evidence that, in the end, will help improve health outcomes,” he says. “I’m hoping to take some of this research, along with a preventive focus, to Nepal in the coming years.”