Fulbright scholar to study plant use in Colombia

Joanna Michel

Joanna Michel will travel to Colombia to study how women use medicinal and nutritional plants. (Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin)

Joanna Michel, instructor of medical education and associate director of the UIC Urban Medicine Program, has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to study how women displaced from rural to urban areas in Medellin, Colombia, use medicinal and nutritional plants in their health care practices.

Michel, who is also an affiliate professor in the UIC School of Public Health, is one of 800 faculty and professionals who will travel abroad during the 2017-2018 academic year through the program, which is the flagship international educational exchange sponsored by the U.S. government.

Ongoing armed conflict in Colombia has caused a dramatic population shift, and 93 percent of the displaced persons now live in urban centers. Michel wants to understand how this migration has altered women’s use of plants for medicinal and nutritional purposes.

“Many of the plants that were available and culturally relevant in rural areas may be harder to find and grow in urban locations,” Michel said. “We will conduct interviews and focus groups to determine how women are adapting their use of these plants and how it effects their well-being and that of their families.

“Some of the questions we hope to answer are how do women obtain these plants, or have they replaced plants with medicines that can be found in the city? Are families growing medicinal plants in urban gardens? How is family health impacted by the shift in location, and is this related in any way to the limited availability of plants in cities?”

The four-month research project is a collaboration between Michel and Sergio Cristancho, professor of public health at the Universidad de Antioquia in Medellin and assistant professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford.

Michel has a Ph.D. in pharmacognosy and medical ethnobotany from the UIC College of Pharmacy. Previous honors include UIC’s Silver Circle Award for teaching and an earlier Fulbright Fellowship to support her Ph.D. work in Guatemala.

The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, created in 1946 to increase mutual understanding between U.S. citizens and the people of other countries, recognizes academic and professional achievement in addition to record of service and demonstrated leadership in recipients’ respective fields.

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