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Research interests

Image by Nathan Dumlao

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) among Vulnerable Population

Dr. Calderón Villarreal has experience conducting research about WASH in several vulnerable populations during her master’s and doctoral studies. Her MPH thesis resulted in the article Popular Education to Improve Water Quality and Hygiene in a Mexican Indigenous Community (accepted in Global Health Promotion), in Mexico combining quantitative public health and qualitative social sciences approaches. During her MPH, Alhelí also developed an intervention to promote water consumption in children. She presented the results as a poster titled Promotion of simple water consumption in schoolchildren, through the Precede-Procede methodology at the 17 Conference for Public Health Research, in the INSP in 2017.


Before her PhD at UCSD/SDSU, Dr. Calderón Villarreal alongside with Brendan Terry, Prevencasa A. C. and Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental A. C., founded and directed a transdisciplinary research group focused on the binational Tijuana River, studying water quality, and the water use, contact, and health outcomes among PWID who live inside this river. This project established her interest among the community of PWID. The first phase of this project was developed in 2019 without fundings. A special televised report was presented in Telemundo 20 (San Diego) in 2019 about this project titled La población del río de Tijuana. A Cine-Debate was hosted by the researchers/activists in the team to discuss the environmental and social situation in the Tijuana River with the general public. For the second phase of this project, academics and students from El COLEF, UC Berkeley and Pomona College were awarded a grant from the Research Program on Migration and Health (PIMSA) under the title Urban Border Ecologies & Environmental Health among Tijuana's Homeless Population. The results of the first phase and part of the second phase constitutes the published manuscript titled Deported, Homeless, and Into the Canal: Environmental Structural Violence in the Binational Tijuana River, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine in 2022. Part of the results of these papers were presented at the talk Structural Violence on the US-Mexico Border: Intersecting Forced Migration, Overdose, Water, and Human Rights Crises, presented with Dr. Joseph Friedman at the UCLA CTSI Distinguished Speaker Series 2022-2023. Results from this project will be presented for stakeholders and the general public in Las Voces del Río: Presentación de Resultados del Proyecto Socioambiental del Río Tijuana on February 23rd, 2023, at El COLEF.


During the first year of her PhD, Dr. Calderón Villarreal worked as Graduate Student Researcher with Dr. Steffanie Strathdee (UCSD professor) designing and testing the WASH component of La Frontera binational project (NIH, R01 DA049644) survey. From this project she presented two posters, An Instrument to Measuring the WASH Dimension of Menstrual Health Among People Who Inject Drugs at the APHA Conference in 2022 in Boston, and WASH Access among people who inject drugs in Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, California at UNC 2022 Water and Health Conference.


She also collaborated with Dr. Georgia Kayser (UCSD professor) and Dr. Ryan (WASH Officer) from the UNHCR analyzed WASH access among 21 refugee camps. Results were published in 2022 on the Journal of Equity and Health, under the title Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in 21 Refugee Camps and Settlements: Estimating a Female WASH Access Index in Bangladesh, Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Dr. Calderón Villarreal is now analyzing hand hygiene access and associated social stratifiers among international migrants in Tijuana, Mexico in a project with Drs. Strethdee and Kayser.

Alhelí collaborated with Dr. Kayser in the component of Pesticide exposures, mental health and endocrine disruption among children growing up near pesticide spray sites for the ESPINA (Exposure to Pesticides among Children and Adolescents in Ecuador) of UCSD and San Francisco de Quito University in Ecuador. She participated in the field work and the preparation of water samples from the community of Pedro de Moncayo, Ecuador for the evaluation of water quality and pesticides. 

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