“Changemakers” is our new series exploring how young people, connected and globally aware, are working to change the world. If you know a young person (think “Millennial” or “Gen Y”) committed to change, global health and the fight against poverty, please send the person’s name, short bio and contact info to Jake Ellison at email@example.com.
By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent
Ines Tucakovic was only a child when she and her family fled the war in their native Bosnia. But her job at Seattle’s Infectious Disease Research Institute has a connection to home.
As part of the research team in the institute’s clinical immunology lab, Tucakovic prepares protocols for clinical trials being conducted internationally. The trials are for vaccines for tuberculosis and a parasite called leishmaniasis. Tucakovic also processes the samples taken from patients in Venezuela, Peru, India, Columbia and Sudan.
If Tucakovic and her team are successful and better vaccines become more widely available, they can curb some of the illnesses and deaths that are caused by preventable diseases – including diseases that killed people in her homeland.
Here’s why and how Tucakovic got involved in global health and development:
Q: Why is “global health and the fight against poverty” an important issue for you?
“I was born and raised in Bosnia,” Tucakovic said. Friends and family were vaccinated for different diseases, but that didn’t always mean they were protected. “The efficacy wore off and some people got sick.”
Q: What personal experience captivated you? What idea is driving your commitment?
Tucakovic lost a family member in Bosnia from a tuberculosis-related lung infection. “It was very upsetting,” she said. “It really hit close to home.”
People from her small town sometimes knew they needed medical care that was only available in bigger cities, but they lacked the resources or fortitude to get them. She appreciates the approach pursued at Infectious Disease Research Institute that tries to eliminate the problem of access.
“We’re all about going into indigenous areas and treating people at the site of the disease,” she said.
Q: Do you think your generation is more attuned to global issues such as global health and the fight against poverty?
“I think so, definitely. We live in a world where technology is exploding and we’re finding different ways we can have access to people in the world.”
Q: Do you think your generation will make a difference?
“I think so. These problems have been around for a really long time. I feel like we’re on the cusp of something. All of these grants are popping up and people are getting educated and involved.”
That engagement could generate more ideas for solving these problems and could result in more funding. It won’t be easy, Tucakovic said, “but our generation has the spirit and the drive, and sometimes that’s what you really need when it feels overwhelming.”
Q: How did you land a job in this field?
After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in biology and psychology from the Albertson College of Idaho, Tucakovic wanted a job doing scientific research. A friend suggested that she check out the Washington Global Health Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes the local global health community.
“It was a matter of jumping online and seeing what was out there,” she said.
Q: If you were to advise someone on how to get a job in this field, what would you tell them?
“It’s not always about having experience,” Tucakovic said, “but it’s about being passionate about what’s going on.” Get involved in organizations in your community working on international issues, and read and educate yourself about foreign countries and the challenges they face.
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