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Curbing Inequalities in Global Health

Written By: Zhao Gu Gammage

Yon pwason ki mouri nan dlo se pa nwaye l nwaye. A fish that dies in water did not drown.

At first glance, this Haitian proverb may seem like a philosophical idea about humankind, with no relation to STEM or public health, but, for Dr. Moise, this proverb was tied to something else: equality in healthcare. She pondered how the fish died: Did the fish have a heart murmur? Did a predator eat the fish? Did the water infect the fish? This proverb helped to develop her passion for health equality because it shows her thought process when analyzing systemic flaws in healthcare.

As a child, Dr. Rhoda Moise witnessed multiple family members struggle with chronic diseases. She saw her grandmother injecting insulin into her abdomen because of her uncontrolled diabetes. She heard of family members dying of cancer. She watched her brother be diagnosed with asthma and was later diagnosed with asthma herself. As she grew older, she noticed that Black and immigrant communities had different rates of these chronic diseases and wanted to figure out why and how to fix it.

From Haitian Roots

Her childhood fostered both an academic and humanitarian foundation for her career in STEM. Dr. Moise, a Philadelphia native, grew up with an international background, as both of her parents were born and raised in Haiti. Being raised in a multilingual household—her father spoke Haitian Creole, French, Spanish, and English—allowed her to develop a natural ear for tongues, which subsequently shaped her global perspective. Her parents also helped her develop her math and science skills by encouraging her to participate in summer science programs. These programs were focused on a wide variety of topics, from archaeology to medicine, and they helped her better understand the role of science in her community. Her father also gave her at-home supplemental math exercises to strengthen her cognitive and computational skills. As she pursued chronic disease research among African subgroups, her experience with chronic disease and her foundation in STEM fueled her continued research.

Path of Pursuit

Dr. Moise made it her mission to pursue equality in global health after several encounters with chronic disease in her family. Throughout her undergraduate and graduate studies, she analyzed how health systems handle chronic diseases. In her postdoctoral research, she is studying the cause of health inequities that lead to disproportionately high levels of cervical cancer among women of African ancestry; she hopes to eventually prevent the unequal distribution of the disease within this demographic.

She initially began to pursue her interest in chronic diseases and global health as an undergraduate honors student at the Pennsylvania State University. During her time at Penn State, Dr. Moise learned about global health and chronic disease control and prevention. She conducted research at both a local and international level, from Philadelphia to Thailand and Senegal. Her research focused on people living with diabetes and the need for local approaches to healthcare and health systems. Dr. Moise interacted with these communities to educate them about disease prevention and to promote healthy habits. Her undergraduate education established a broad foundation in global health, which would be used later in her doctoral research. Her research focusing on Haitian immigrants helped her gain insight into the reasons behind her family’s history with chronic diseases.

As a doctoral student at the University of Miami, she studied healthcare systems and access to screening for cervical cancer amongst Haitians living in Miami, Florida, and St. Marc, Haiti. This research helped her understand the delicacy of immigrant health and how to approach equitable healthcare with limited resources. She has found that Haitian women living in Miami as well as Haiti face systemic challenges that hinder their ability to access proper screening and hospitals, making them more prone to cancer. Dr. Moise hopes to help Haitian women and disadvantaged groups overcome these challenges by using her research to help serve populations in community health and develop policy and products that align with equity for all.

To further her research into health discrepancies among groups of African ancestry, she returned to her hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and joined Dr. Camille Ragin’s team at Fox Change Cancer Center. Currently, Dr. Moise’s postdoctoral research at Fox Chase Cancer Center explores how certain African people’s cultures, customs, genetics, and health outlooks contribute to the severity and frequency of cervical cancer. She continues to study how to address cancer inequities by examining biological and behavioral data from groups of African ancestry living in the United States, Caribbean, and Africa. All of her research focuses on chronic disease prevention and how to improve health systems to better promote wellness in under-served, -resourced, and -represented groups.

Her path to pursuit did not come easily, though. Although she gained a solid foundation in math and science growing up, she still faced opposition from her environment including colleagues and professors. She has experienced many microaggressions that come with being a Black woman in STEM and sometimes struggles to find support. She has faced cynical colleagues and demeaning professors, but, through these experiences, she has become stronger for herself and for her community. She says, “I have been cut by thousands of microaggressions… I keep going with the investment in making the journey easier for my mentees.” She finds inspiration in the many Black women who came before her and in the many Black women that will come after her. She recounts, “I am never alone although I may physically be the only woman or black person in the room… Community is everything - the people ahead, behind, and next to me.” And she has grown to challenge discrimination and embrace her cultural heritage. Despite the infrastructural and institutional challenges, she continues her research and hopes to motivate other Black women in STEM.  

Dr. Rhoda Moise intends to encourage her patients and curb the inequality across health systems by connecting them with science-based on understanding a society. She hopes her work “uplifts people and populations with science to make a society of love that heals all.”

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