Alicia Riley recalls a moment when the statistics and the theories dissipated. Sitting before her at a rehab center in the outskirts of Tijuana, was a man with a gaunt face and raspy voice. Despite the effort required to take each breath, he passionately recounted his story of tuberculosis, drug use, illegal border crossing and the barriers to treatment he experienced.
Riley was conducting a study on the effectiveness of a new initiative called the Binational Health Card for Tuberculosis, intended to reduce obstacles to TB treatment experienced by the highly mobile populations in the U.S.-Mexico border region. Two years later, while presenting her study results at an international conference, Alicia thought again of that man with the raspy voice who had died just weeks after their interview. She saw the national directors of TB control for the U.S. and Mexico in the audience listening and realized that through her research, she gave a powerful voice to the TB patients who participated in her study.
Riley has since explored public health issues that touch places like Mexico, Nicaragua, Tanzania and Oakland, California. “My work has given me access to individuals in trying situations, from surviving intimate partner violence to surviving cancer,” she says. “I am inspired by the resilience I see in my clients and feel that I have played a small but critical role in helping them move toward what survivorship means for them.”
While at the Bloomberg School, she hopes to swing her attention toward epidemiological methods, particularly social epidemiology. Her goal is to examine disparities in health outcomes and initiatives to reduce them.
“I grew up thinking about public health in the context of immigration and international borders,” says Riley. “Health was the realm where I observed the most compelling examples of social injustice and racism, but also the greatest potential to make progress toward bridging social barriers and addressing injustice.”
Doctoral Student, The University of Chicago