Global Reach of Bass Connections Project Teams

Bass Connections bridges the classroom and the real world, giving students a chance to tackle complex societal problems alongside faculty from across Duke. Knowing that many challenges take place in villages, hospitals and schools around the world, many Bass Connections project teams have a global reach—to date there have been activities in 29 countries on five continents in addition to many cities and towns around the U.S., the Carolinas and right here in Durham.


Many of these projects represent collaborations with partners on Duke’s campus, including the Duke Global Health Institute, Global Brazil Lab, Nasher Museum of Art, Global Education and many others.

Asia Examples

Value Chain Analysis Informs Efforts to Save Babies’ Lives in Bangladesh

Bass Connections project team

A drop of chlorhexidine on a baby’s newly-cut umbilical cord is a WHO-recommended practice to prevent life-threatening infections. Some countries that don’t yet have this practice in place, such as Bangladesh, would like to get started. But although chlorhexidine is affordable and effective, there are significant gaps in manufacturing and distribution that are barriers to its widespread use.

A Bass Connections project team led by Jeffrey Moe (Duke Global Health Institute) and Nimmi Ramanujam (Pratt School of Engineering) conducted a global value chain analysis of chlorhexidine for umbilical cord care in Bangladesh. “The way we approached the problem is looking for medium- to long-term solutions to develop a sustainable supply at the lowest cost with the highest quality over many years,” says Moe. “We looked at everything from sourcing active pharmaceutical ingredients to health disparities which create barriers for mothers.”

“The most rewarding aspect was the collaborative working environment we developed and the interactions we had with in-country stakeholders [Ministry of Health and Save the Children Bangladesh],” says student team member Courtney Caiola (School of Nursing). “I learned an immeasurable amount from both my Duke and Bangladeshi colleagues and was offered a much broader lens through which to view both the problem and potential solutions.”

The team produced a paper with recommendations based on the value chain analysis in Bangladesh, to support similar efforts to introduce chlorhexidine in Asia and Africa.

Study on Urban Poverty Builds Understanding of How Slums Operate in India

Bass Connections team

There are one billion people living in slums worldwide, and slums are rapidly expanding across the developing world. Yet slums are largely ignored by policymakers, by the majority of literature on development and by other city residents.

A Bass Connections project developed and refined a satellite-based methodology for identifying slums and slum types in Bangalore, India, and investigated how political networks and distributive politics impact the security of property rights, access to public services and human well-being in slums.

Team members traveled to Bangalore, conducting interviews and thousands of surveys in an attempt to identify formal and informal community leaders. Their goal was to analyze the relationship between local leadership density and government services.

The team identified and categorized types of slums based on field observations, satellite images and survey data. Back on campus, team members proceeded with their research and took part in a conference at Duke, where they presented two papers.

“Our team’s work is the most comprehensive slum literature in the last decade,” says student team member Tara Bansal (Trinity College of Arts & Sciences). The research will be used to better identify the political network that controls how government goods and services are distributed in the slums. “It’s not just a set of numbers,” says faculty team leader Anirudh Krishna (Sanford School of Public Policy). “It’s peoples’ lives.”

South America Examples

Environmental Health Study Guides Peru’s Government in Directing Emergency Aid

Bass Connections project team

Bill Pan (Nicholas School of the Environment and DGHI) and colleagues have led a Bass Connections project team, Environmental Epidemiology in Latin America, since 2013. Their research on the health effects of illegal gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon is making an impact: in May 2016 Peru’s government declared a public-health emergency to address the mercury pollution caused by mining along the Madre de Dios River. According to an article by Barbara Fraser in Nature, “Peru’s government used the Duke team’s latest study to determine which riverside communities should receive the emergency aid.”

Duke researchers “found high levels of mercury (above the maximum recommended by the World Health Organization) in hair samples from 40% of the Madre de Dios residents that they tested,” writes Fraser. “The Duke team has examined about 800 people living along a major highway in the region, 100 people living beside the river and 2,000 in the Amarakaeri Indigenous Reserve. Some communities in the region are closer to the gold-mining activities than others, but the 40% exposure rate held across the highway, river and reserve.”

Student team members were trained in epidemiology, hydrology, land use, remote sensing, toxicology, nutrition and biogeochemical cycling. After working on campus for seven months, the team spent the summer in the Peruvian Amazon researching vector-borne diseases and the health impacts of mercury exposure. Students also partnered with the Ministry of Health to give presentations to children on nutrition, dental hygiene and handwashing.

New Project Builds Partnerships with Universities in Brazil

Bass Connections team

While others were preparing for the Olympics, a Bass Connections project team was in Rio de Janeiro in June 2016 to begin its study of the effects of the Brazilian government’s expansion of the university system.

As part of Duke’s Global Brazil Lab, students and faculty are collaborating with Brazilian scholars and students at the Multidisciplinary Institute of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro. The team is focusing on Baixada, a lower-income region in the city’s lowlands, to assess how changes to higher education will impact social mobility in the country.

“It’s an immersion experience, and we are in a region that is very different from any place that people would intentionally stop in,” said faculty team leader John French (Trinity). “The whole project is being conducted in Portuguese, and the students have a wonderful attitude about it.”

One of the Global Brazil Lab’s goals is to facilitate intercultural exchange between Duke students and their Brazilian colleagues. The Bass Connections team is working with approximately two dozen Brazilian students to acquire data, develop reports and discuss issues in the Brazilian cultural, social, environmental and political landscape.

“We are aiming to create strategic partnerships between Duke and Brazilian universities, U.S. scholars and Brazilian scholars and U.S. students and Brazilian students,” French said.

Africa Example

Distance Learning Program Improves Training of Nurse Anesthetists in Ghana

Bass Connections project team

Anesthesia care for the 25 million citizens of Ghana is almost entirely the responsibility of just 500 nurse anesthetists. The University for Development Studies (UDS) in Tamale, Ghana, offers a Bachelor of Science program for nurse anesthesia, but it is predominately filled with practicing anesthetists who wish to obtain a baccalaureate degree. The problem is two-fold: anesthetists are leaving their communities for two years to earn their degrees, and very few new providers are being trained.

A Bass Connections project team worked closely with UDS to transfer the existing curriculum into an executive-style distance learning format. The goal was to utilize innovative technology and an executive training model to assist practicing anesthetists in completing their degree, allowing for a continuity of care in the community and opportunities to train additional nurses to administer anesthesia.

The Duke-UDS team launched the first-ever executive-style distance training program for healthcare workers in Ghana. An evaluation showed that the program implementation goals were successful and UDS clinical learning goals were being met.

“Witnessing the teamwork required for a project’s implementation and continuation from an inside perspective was inspiring,” says student team member Jenny Li (Trinity). “Collaborators from nursing, anesthesiology, global health and computer science were all involved in this Bass Connections team, and each person was integral to the success of our project.”