Ensuring Access to Essential Care: Christina Bethke ’92
Through her work with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Christina Bethke ’92 is helping to ensure that displaced Syrian women and girls living in refugee camps have access to health and reproductive care.
When reading about large populations of people ravaged by disease or displaced by violence, it can be easy to feel paralyzed by the scale and scope of the problem. For Christina Bethke ’92, these very human tragedies are the motivation to take action and find solutions.
As a public health professional, Christina has spent the past seven years on the front lines of community health—in Liberia during the Ebola crisis, and most recently in Jordan, working with Syrian refugees.
After graduating from Vanderbilt University, Christina completed her master’s degree in social work and public health at Boston University. She moved to Liberia to work for Last Mile Health, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to health care in that country. As Ebola began to spread through Liberia in early 2015, Christina helped to overhaul the community health worker program, making sure that health workers were trained to educate their communities about the cause of Ebola, how to prevent its spread, and how to manage suspected cases.
After a move to Jordan in 2016, Christina began working for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a department of the United Nations that focuses on issues of reproductive health, gender-based violence, and youth empowerment. Her focus: displaced Syrian women and girls living in Zaatari Camp and Azraq Camp, both located in Jordan.
Christina’s role with UNFPA has been multifaceted. She has helped to coordinate the delivery of reproductive health kits and other essential supplies to health partners in Syria. She has helped ensure the delivery of essential sexual and reproductive health care services to displaced women and girls. She has also been actively involved in the establishment of safe spaces for these women and girls, often located close to the camps’ health facilities, as a way to provide health education and support in the form of group activities and job training. “Our goal is to provide pathways so women and girls and find and receive the support they need,” she explains.
Christina acknowledges that “success” in such a challenging situation is a constantly moving target. “It’s a lot of adapting and adjusting,” she says, especially because her organization must work in concert with other service providers. “I enjoy that collaborative feeling that we’re all in this to provide the best intervention we can, and I appreciate that our partners are always trying to push that line closer to the ideal.”