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Augustine Cassis Obeng Boateng, MPH, GR’20

“Towards the end of 2019, I decided to go back to China and explore more of rural China. Specifically, I wanted to hike the glass canopy walk and visit the Wuhan market. I wanted to see how venom is extracted from pythons as well as its preparation for consumption.

I was stationed at Zhejiang Wanli University campus with a friend from Ghana. We toured the city of Ningbo and visited its historic temple monuments. And of course, I had my second big bowl of Chinese noodles (very tasty and spicy).

Around 12:15 pm on the second to last day there, we decided to make our way to Wuhan. The cheapest and easiest way to get there is via the bullet train. We called for DIDI (the Chinese version of Uber) to get us to the train station. Keep in mind that everything was in Chinese. Neither of us could speak or read Chinese.

We made our way to Yuyang except we were dropped off half a mile away from the train station. We made our way to the train station on foot and missed our train by 5 minutes. My friend suggested we attempt to make it to Wuhan the next day. I was over it at that point and running short on time in China. So we made it to the glass canopy walk instead and it was by far the highlight of that very trip. The sounds of birds, waterfall, and forest filled with foggy clouds all made it eventful and the most optimal way to conclude my trip.

While inside Beijing international airport and on my way to the US, I saw health workers in PPE carrying what appeared to be dead bodies. I didn’t think much of it plus I couldn’t even understand the news that was being broadcasted. In retrospect, this was the beginning of the pandemic but at this point the Chinese people didn’t even know what they were dealing with.

A week after I got into the US, COVID-19 had picked up steam and was literally on every news channel around the globe. And the source? Wuhan! For a moment, I was so grateful we never made it to Wuhan and as the death toll increased by the numbers in China, I was reminded of the horrors of the Ebola epidemic. And not long after, the US was hit by the virus.

Penn Nursing students and faculty members rose to the occasion! They assisted at food banks, actively engaged and educated their community through social media, and worked on the frontline at hospitals and as EMTs. I joined a team of researchers at Penn Medicine to assist with the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson clinical trials. We aggressively focused on minority participants in West Philadelphia.

The roadblocks and mistrust in minority communities in relation to COVID-19 research reminded me of the importance of advocating for research centers in underserved communities. I love Penn Nursing because each student and faculty is the epitome of bravery and service, we take care of our people near and afar, and we rise to the challenge when the world and our community need us most.”

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