UCSF leaders propose University of California School of Global Health

By Kristen Bole

Haile Debas, MD

The Regents of the University of California are hearing a formal proposal today that will launch the next stage of planning for the UC School of Global Health to meet the tremendous need for training new leaders to tackle increasing global health issues. This would be UC’s first multicampus, systemwide school.

Haile Debas, MD, director of UCSF Global Health Sciences and former UCSF chancellor, and Sir Richard Feachem, DSc (Med), professor of global health at UCSF and UC Berkeley, are making the presentation.

The proposed school would integrate the expertise of UC faculty in health sciences, social sciences, law, business and engineering to tackle global issues such as pandemics, re-emerging infections, chronic disease, poverty and healthcare disparities, climate change and health, and the safety and security of global food and water supplies.

Planning for the school, which germinated from a discussion of the UC Long Range Guidance Team in 2005 and was subsequently recommended by a faculty Exploratory Committee, has been under way since August 2007 under the leadership of Debas. He said the initiative responds to both the rising impact of global health challenges on the state of California, and to an enormous demand from the nation’s top post-graduate school applicants for programs addressing global health needs.

“Today’s level of interest in global health among UC faculty and students is phenomenal,” said Debas, who has developed numerous international collaborations in health throughout his career, especially in Africa. “The best and the brightest students see the availability of global health training as a key factor in their selection of schools and training programs.”

In today’s presentation to the Board of Regents, Debas cites results of a recent UC survey of 46,505 students on the San Diego and Los Angeles campuses, in which 54 percent of the undergraduates were “somewhat or very interested” in a major or minor in global health, with 11 percent interested in pursuing graduate level study in the field.

A second survey showed that more than 80 percent of UC faculty working on global health see a need for greater training in the field, at the masters and doctoral level and in continuing education courses for faculty and technical staff. Similarly, a survey of California nonprofits shows an anticipated increase in hires for the global health work force over the next five years and an increasing interest in graduate training in global health.

The proposal to create such a school in the UC system is based on the vast impact of global health on the state of California and the role of California companies in addressing those needs statewide and around the world. The proposal is strengthened by the UC system’s diverse research capabilities and the close relationship between global health and the California economy.

Global health already has a strong impact on the California economy. California receives the greatest amount of National Institutes of Health funding of any state – $3.5 billion of the $22.9 billion awarded nationwide in 2007. In the same year, extramural awards to UC for global health totaled $1.7 billion. There is also strong political commitment to these issues through such bills as the $48 billion federal AIDS/tuberculosis/malaria bill, which President George Bush signed into law July 30.

UC extramural funding doubled from 2005 to 2007, resulting in $1.3 billion in new grants across the system’s 10 campuses. That funding has been shown to have a multiplier effect for local and state economies, with the portion of new awards dedicated to global health in 2007 – $105 million – expected to generate $254 million in business activity, $94 million in new wages and 1,600 new jobs.

Already, 709 for-profit companies in California have a global health mission, according to an inventory of the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business CorpTech database and the California Employment Development Department database. Another 45 companies – including Gap Inc., Google Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Mattel Inc., – support hundreds of global health projects through corporate philanthropy programs.

“California is at the forefront, through both its research and its corporate culture, in addressing the tremendous health challenges facing the world today,” said Feachem, who formerly was executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He now leads the UCSF Global Health Group, which focuses on large-scale action to address such global concerns as malaria.

“These are scientific and medical issues, but they are global policy issues as well,” Feachem said. “It is incumbent upon us to mobilize the breadth and depth of the intellectual resources of the University of California to tackle these challenges.”

Global health extends beyond the traditional definition of international or public health to include the critical connections between global issues and our own local communities, such as the effect on health of climate change, migration, clean energy and the safety of our food and water, Feachem said. It also addresses issues such as the disparate life expectancies worldwide, diverse health systems, immigrants’ declining health while living in California, and the role immigration plays in filling California’s vast needs for nurses and other healthcare workers.

The proposed school would be a multicampus program, with five or more global health centers linking participating campuses and an administrative center on one of the 10 UC campuses statewide. Those centers will each focus on a separate major global health challenge, such as infectious diseases, climate change or food security.

Initial planning for this project was supported by an 18-month grant from the UC Office of the President. Phase II planning is now under way and will be supported by an anticipated generous planning grant from a major foundation.

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. For further information, please visit www.ucsf.edu.