ASU alumna works to reduce HIV stigmas
Dorelle Dushime reflects on her global health journey from her childhood in East Africa to ASU and beyond
Dorelle Dushime always had a passion for health equity and helping people.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in global health from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University in 2016.
Recently, Dushime placed in phase one of a national challenge aimed at reducing HIV-related stigma and disparities.
When she read about the “HIV Challenge: Innovative Community Engagement Strategies to Reduce HIV-Related Stigma and Disparities” on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, Dushime knew she could make a difference.
Her proposal made her one of 15 people, out of 80, who went through to phase one of the competition, and she was awarded $20,000 to support her plan.
In creating her proposal, Dushime wants to create a safe platform for LGBTQ youth to participate, learn and be able to ask questions about HIV to help end the stigmatization surrounding the disease.
“My proposal focuses on creating a culturally and linguistically fun, trustworthy and educational space, specifically created by and for the Black and brown youth of the LGBTQ+ community,” Dushime said. “The goal is to increase PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and ART (antiretroviral therapy) uptake, and reduce HIV-related stigma disparities.”
Dushime said she envisions a community who will share stories and make connections to others who live with HIV.
“The end goal is to make sure that as a whole population we are educated about HIV, and together debunk false myths and make HIV part of the norm,” Dushime said.
Although she was not selected to move forward to phase two of the challenge, Dushime said she will still work to promote her proposal to organizations and even other countries. She will also use some of the money to help start her nonprofit organization, Succeed-Room.
“Succeed-Room will focus on building a global community health workforce to promote preventive care and provide basic health needs to marginalized populations by meeting them where they are and initiating sustainable and community-based approaches to bridge different barriers associated with accessing health services and ultimately achieve optimal health outcomes,” Dushime said.
Burundi to Arizona State University
The story of Dushime’s passion to end suffering and provide basic human rights started long before her time in the United States, but grew while attending ASU. The importance of global health was prevalent for Dushime while growing up in the central country of Burundi in East Africa.
Dushime said she lived in a nice area of Burundi and had access to clean water, food and education. However, she witnessed death and starvation on a daily basis.
“Literally every kid that I would talk to would tell me that their parents died and they didn’t have any family members taking care of them,'' Dushime said. “They were orphans and a majority of their parents were dying from malaria or tuberculosis.”
When she was in eighth grade, Dushime decided she wanted to be a doctor to help people who needed it the most. She started by asking her mother if she could feed a couple children on Sundays with the family’s leftovers. She and her family continued to help feed children in Burundi for six years, until Dushime came to the United States to attend college.
“In Burundi, the vast majority of the population do not have access to primary health care,” Dushime said.
After high school Dushime took a yearlong program in Burundi for students who wanted to become medical doctors. Her plan was to move to North Carolina and attend medical school. However, her contacts in North Carolina moved and Dushime ended up in Phoenix. She attended Estrella Mountain Community College and then transferred to ASU.
Dushime said she soon realized she wasn’t going to be able to afford medical school, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to stay away from her home country for seven years. That’s when she discovered the School of Human Evolution and Social Change’s global health program.
“I did global health because I knew I would still be able to make the impact I wanted to make and help the most vulnerable people,” Dushime said. “That’s all I wanted; to make sure all people have equal access to resources that every human being has. I felt like that was a human right.”
Dushime also minored in justice studies and earned a certificate in human rights during her time at ASU.
ASU and beyond
After her time at ASU, Dushime attended graduate school at Northwestern University and obtained her Master of Science in global health in 2020. (The School of Human Evolution and Social Change launched a Master of Science in global health in 2021.) Dushime said her time at Arizona State University prepared her for a master’s degree.
“I gained tremendous insights from approaching to solving different health problems that go beyond national boundaries, the importance and efficiency of preventative care, and the crucial role of culture, gender, race and religion when addressing contemporary health challenges,'' Dushime said.
After graduating, Dushime returned to Burundi in May 2021 and helped communities who were affected by the flooding caused by rising water from Lake Tanganyika and the Rusizi River.
She said although there were global nonprofit organizations also trying to help, it just wasn’t enough. She used her own money to help buy as much medical supplies as she could, knowing it wouldn’t be sustainable, but trying to make a difference.
Dushime has put together all she has learned and has moved back to Arizona and is now working on a national health disparities program at the Pima County Health Department, where she leads and implements equitable and community driven strategies to prevent and control COVID-19 infection within populations hit hard by the pandemic.
“Health equity is possible. We have a long way to go, but the good thing is that we have started; we just have to be intentional, build rapport and trust, and most importantly, create a symbiosis relationship with community members,” Dushime said.