by Selin Ocal

With the Human Rights Summer Research Grant, I had the opportunity to stay in Durham and perform work in the unique area of prisoner rights and healthcare. This field serves as a unique passion of mine, and you can read more about how I was first inspired to become a researcher and advocate in this field in my last blog post titled: “Correctional Health and Prisoner Rights.”

As the end of my summer inched closer, I was able to accomplish three large goals that I had set out to complete during my time in Durham. The first was to complete a literature review focusing on the implications of Hepatitis C in US jails and prisons, where I argue that combatting the disease through screening and treatment in the correctional setting will reduce the spread of disease in the general population. I make recommendations for the screening and treatment strategies that would be economically favorable and logistically feasible for state and federal governments to employ. Similarly, I completed a second manuscript about the estimated prevalence of the disease in the North Carolina state prison system specifically. I offer alternatives for treatment and screening that have been employed in other US states and argue that Duke’s home state should also follow suite. This article will be distributed to North Carolina healthcare professionals and state policy makers, which is an exciting step towards pushing this issue into the periphery of leaders who have the capacity to direct action.

In addition to this work, I was also able to start working as a research assistant for a program that offers people who have recently been released from incarceration with access to primary care and mental health services. Such programs are crucial for this vulnerable population since a vast majority of those released end up exiting the system without medical insurance. Many inmates with chronic illness are therefore cut off from the necessary medications that they were receiving routinely in the correctional setting. As a part of the team running this program for former inmates, my role is to enter the data collected from the participants/patients of the program, which will be used to identify what the major socially-determined barriers to care are for this population. Though I started working on this project over the summer, I have now committed to continuing this work during the semester.

The opportunity to learn from my research mentor and collaborate within this area of human rights and healthcare was an invaluable experience offered to me by this grant. All of these parts of my summer project have shown me that even in this seemingly narrow field, where only few professionals are working to improve conditions for this population, there is still a way for students like me to make an impact. I look forward to continue making strides in this sector as both an undergraduate and hopefully a physician and advocate in the future.