Fall 2005

Peacefully Battling War and the Spread of HIV

Amy Finnegan, A.B. ’00

Amy Finnegan traces her love of social issues to Washington University, where she first experienced people far different from those in her home state of Minnesota.

She traveled to India with the Catholic Student Center, studied abroad in Chile, and helped Latin American immigrants adjust to new life in the United States.

“All of that broadened my understanding of the world and social policy and my role in it,” says Finnegan, A.B. ’00 (political science and Spanish).

The friendships she made and the service work she performed instilled in her a great interest in social policy. This passion has most recently taken her to England, where she and her husband, Michael Westerhaus, A.B. ’98 (biology), presented a paper arguing that the lack of security in an area, whether because of war or of people not having access to jobs, can heighten HIV transmission.

The paper is a result of their research in Uganda, where the pair went after Finnegan graduated from the University. Spending a year there, she and her husband, who is in his final year of studying medicine at Harvard Medical School, worked at a high school and built latrines for a public health project.

Last summer, Finnegan, 27, went back to Uganda as part of her master’s degree program in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She completed the two-year degree program this spring shortly before her London presentation.

In between her trips to Uganda, Finnegan also worked at John Snow, Inc., focusing on international public health and NGO management. From Boston and on-site, she led projects helping build infrastructure to boost maternal and children’s health in Eritrea and Guatemala.

All of this work has culminated in a great love of conflict resolution and of seeking ways to avoid war. Finnegan says she challenges people to think about solutions to problems, such as mediation and negotiations, other than picking up guns.

“There’s this mentality that war is unavoidable and that it just happens sometimes, or that we have to go to war,” Finnegan says. “I just challenge that. It’s not inevitable. We can avoid it.”

In London, Finnegan and Westerhaus presented their paper at a conference on Africa through the African European Group for Interdisciplinary Studies (AEGIS). In Uganda, in particular, Finnegan says the conflict has led to people living in displaced people’s camps and children going into town each night to avoid being kidnapped by rebels. Because people cannot access their land to earn money for school fees or food, they’re forced to find other ways to live. All of this leads to increased transmission of HIV, which has long plagued sub-Saharan Africa, she and her husband argue.

With both HIV and war still present in the world, Finnegan’s work is just getting started, and she wants to work either in Boston or in Uganda. Finnegan says it’s important for her to have a home base in the United States, but she also wants to go abroad, where she says she’s inspired to work.

She’d also like to pursue a Ph.D. degree in a year or two. Ultimately, Finnegan wants to be a professor and possibly start a program to continue her fieldwork.

“I hope to keep up my connection to Uganda and also work on war and conflict issues, concentrating on how we all are connected.”

—Emily Rose, A.B. ’02

At press time, Amy Finnegan was starting a position as a program officer for World Education (www.worlded.org), working for its Uganda programs, with themes of HIV/AIDS, conflict, and education.