Sarah McGough '14 Studies Infectious Disease at Harvard University

Author: Sarah McGough

Sarah McGough at Harvard University

I am a second-year master’s student in infectious disease epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. My Portuguese language fluency and significant experience in Brazil from my undergraduate years allowed me to immediately engage in research projects with a focus on mosquito-borne illnesses in Brazil. My current research examines the spatiotemporal transmission patterns of malaria in the Brazilian Amazon, analyzing spatial autocorrelation of malaria infection rates across time using comprehensive case datasets from the Brazilian Ministry of Health. Beyond identifying non-random clusters of malaria diagnoses, the spatiotemporal statistics and multivariate malaria models that I work with are able to ground the apparent growths, declines, and “hot spots” of malaria in policy, climate change, land use, and demography, going beyond biology in the analysis of transmission events.

My interdisciplinary undergraduate coursework in anthropology and the biological sciences as well as my experiences as a Hesburgh-Yusko scholar ultimately inspired my desire to study population health, which I saw as the perfect intersection of the natural and social sciences. I best conceptualize health on the macro scale of populations, and find it immensely challenging and rewarding to examine the full picture of disease transmission as influenced by forces ranging from vector biology to human behavior and movement, without all of which we can neither truly understand current transmission dynamics nor seek to forecast them in the future. It was during my senior honors thesis research, conducted on HIV/AIDS in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, that I had the realization that epidemiology – under the broader field of population health – captured these dynamics. Now, my work with malaria is as cross-disciplinary as my undergraduate studies and my time as a Hesburgh-Yusko scholar.

I continued my malaria research during this past summer in the National Malaria Control Program at the Brazilian Ministry of Health in Brasília, Brazil, and was awarded a research fellowship from the Harvard University Defeating Malaria initiative to do so. I will present this research at a global malaria conference and eradication course in São Paulo in September.