After his freshman year at Harvard, history major Marcelo Cerullo’s journey into the Brazilian Amazon to volunteer with the Foundation for Tropical Medicine might have seemed unlikely. “I told the doctors there that I was interested in history and development,” he says. “They told me to go into medicine, that as a doctor I’d also be part anthropologist, part data analyst.”
In the Amazon, Cerullo delivered malaria medicines, triaged patients and mapped an outbreak of Chagas disease. He eventually grew close to two of the foundation’s physicians who lived in and bridged the values of two disparate communities—the poor and disenfranchised, and the scientific and privileged.
After college, Cerullo returned to Brazil to document the public health effects of an oil pipeline being built through the Amazon. He witnessed how shifting population dynamics negatively impacted villagers.
The arrival of thousands of migrant workers from throughout Brazil fostered the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. In addition, several village wells became contaminated when the sewage system became incapable of handling the influx of waste.
“Bureaucratic decisions ultimately resulted in well contaminations; the fallout was very real. One 15-year-old got a kidney infection and was unlikely to recover,” Cerullo recalls. “That teen’s diseased body is a sad testament to the state of several social, political and economic forces.”
Cerullo next wants to understand the epidemiology of trauma in Baltimore. “I decided to come to Hopkins because of the relationships the institution historically has had with its environs,” he says. “A lot of positivity has come from efforts to redefine that relationship.”
The intersection of surgery and public health interests him. “Surgery is one piece of the public health practice that I hope I’ll be able to clinically affect,” he says. “I hope to study resource allocation and utilization, as well as clinical and population risk, to determine how to deliver equitable care.”
Resident, Duke University Health System