Emory Report
February 27, 2006
Volume 58, Number 21


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February 27 , 2006
Global health should build on strengths

By holly korschun

With globalization becoming an everyday theme in academia, how can Emory avoid the “me-too” syndrome while pursuing the “Pathways to Global Health” initiative in the strategic plan? Participants in the Jan. 16 seminar focused on that initiative suggested some answers: concentrate on Emory’s strengths in research and teaching, set focused program priorities early, and don’t try to be all things to all people.

Faculty, staff and students packed Woodruff Library’s Jones Room to hear a panel from public health, anthropology, medicine, chemistry, Middle Eastern studies and others hash through the why’s, wherefore’s, and how-to’s of Emory’s global health plans.

“Health is a major, unifying issue of public life,” said Jeffrey Koplan, vice president of academic health affairs and one of the initiative’s co-leaders. “Health involves poor and rich countries, all ages and socioeconomic strata, and includes scientific inquiry, technology, ethics, the economy, diplomacy and public policy. Through Emory’s involvement in global health, we can help make the fruits of discovery accessible; we can create opportunities for learning, and we can do good deeds.”

Emory’s resources can enable the University to distinguish itself in global health, the participants agreed, both through established programs and creation of new partnerships. The Rollins School of Public Health’s well-recognized and growing Hubert Department of Global Health; the School of Medicine’s long-term partnerships in the Republic of Georgia; and collaborations in several African and Central American countries, India, China and Mexico serve as good examples of Emory faculty and students already making a strong international impact on health care.

Infectious disease specialist Carlos del Rio, who has established training partnerships in public health and medicine in the Republic of Georgia and Mexico, emphasized that poverty, health disparities and issues of access to health care also need to be addressed at home. Anthropology Professor and initiative co-leader Peter Brown agreed, saying, “To distinguish between domestic and international health is anachronistic.”

A highly focused, University-wide program in global health is an opportunity to galvanize the idealism of students, noted Rollins School of Public Health Dean Jim Curran. “There is a huge and growing interest from students and young people throughout America in global issues,” he said, “and we owe it to our students to have a diverse global capacity.”

Pediatrics chair Barbara Stoll agreed. “Most leaders are inspired when they are young, and global health presents a great opportunity for our students and faculty to merge social, ethical and medical issues.”

Participants emphasized the need to prevent chronic diseases, which often increase with economic development, as well as addressing emerging infections and diseases caused by malnutrition. Creating educational partnerships with universities in other countries could form the basis of long-lasting collaborations in research, education and service.

Global health partnerships also should emphasize cultural understanding among faculty and students, and include aspects of religion and service learning, participants said.

“Many groups in other countries believe their traditional medicines are oppositional to Western medicine,” said Gordon Newby, professor and chair of Middle Eastern and South Asian studies. “How can we find the pathway to global health by helping our faculty and students to have a better cultural awareness and establishing partnerships to overcome this oppositional problem?”

Some panelists pointed out potential pitfalls inherent in new global health initiatives. “Some people go into global health with good intentions, yet leave a country in worse shape than when they started,” said chemistry Professor Dennis Liotta. Liotta helped develop an academic-commercial partnership in South Africa that he hopes will provide an African economic and scientific solution to the continent’s health problems.

“In developing countries, there is often confusion about the roles of different NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and other outside institutions,” said Bruce Knauft, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology and director of the Institute for Comparative and International Studies.

Any global health pathways Emory establishes should be broad, multicultural and multidisciplinary partnerships, Koplan summarized. “Our work should be about creating connections and sharing information, not just imparting knowledge.”

“These programs should be a blend of service, research and teaching, and they should span the health care spectrum from discovery to delivery,” Brown said.