WHO partnership is worthy of broad support

Emory University has been selected to establish a collaborative partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) in support of health development in Africa. This is a new type of relationship for WHO in seeking to collaborate with a private sector university and as such sets a precedent. What advantages would such an agreement bring to Emory?

The WHO Initiative offers Emory the opportunity to expand its contracts in the international arena at the global level via a relationship with WHO Headquarters; at the regional level via a relationship with WHO/Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo; at the national level, with individual African countries (11 African countries will attend the September meeting); and at the local level with university-to-university affiliations (two African universities will participate in the September meeting). Such relationships have the potential to reap significant gains for Emory. A collaborative partnership with WHO would open a door, and set in place an environment that would enhance the fulfillment of Emory's academic mission, moving it as an institution into the vista of international health. This relationship would benefit teaching, graduate and professional programs, and would provide numerous potential research projects.

A partnership relationship with WHO would not interfere with any existing projects now conducted by Emory faculty. In fact, if this initiative is successful, the potential for enhancement of existing projects is real. The University would not commit to any agreement that was not in the interest of ongoing activities of the faculty.

A significant advantage of a WHO/Emory partnership is that it offers Emory, as an institution, a genuine opportunity to act as a comprehensive academic center, with its various academic units acting in consortium. It is my opinion that this type of unity and interaction between schools, specialties and faculty will be the "soul" of the institutions that are successful in the 21st century. The opportunity for Emory to develop an interdisciplinary model of partnership in collaboration with WHO and individual African states may well be the greatest asset this cooperative agreement will bring to our institutional table.

I strongly believe that a collaborative partnership between Emory and WHO is a worthy goal and should be vigorously pursued. A first step of this relationship will be the joint WHO/Emory Collaborative Meeting, which Emory will host Sept. 17-19. This event will provide a forum in which the elaboration of the terms of the partnership can take place. Eleven African countries will participate in the meeting, as will representatives from multilateral and bilateral donor agencies, the private sector, and foundations involved in health sector development in Africa. While there will be 50 official participants at the meeting, 30 of whom Emory will invite, all Emory faculty are most welcome to attend the three-day meeting. Mechanisms are being developed whereby the input from observers and guests can be channeled into plenary discussion groups and will be considered in formulating their recommendations.

At this point in time, the WHO Initiative is an opportunity fraught with potential and challenge. The question facing Emory is how to best maximize the possibilities offered by the partnership while minimizing deviation from the University's basic missions of teaching and research, and continuing to grow in stature as an institution that has strong humanitarian goals.

For this effort to succeed, it must have broad support across all sections of the Emory community. I ask the faculty to pursue this opportunity honestly with as much creativity and integrity as possible. A collaborative partnership between WHO and Emory to support health development in Africa implies a long-term commitment. Thus, the greatest value of this relationship may well be realized by those who will follow us, in which case the effort is doubly worthwhile.

Mort Silberman is assistant director of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center.

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