New Initiatives Highlight UCSF's Commitment to Advancing Global Health

By Robin Hindery

From left, Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellmann talks to Haile Debas, executive director of UCSF Global Health Sciences; Christopher Elias, president and CEO of PATH; and J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, at a Nov. 9 public forum on global health.

In recent years, the field of global health has seen a surge in interest from students seeking to devote their careers to addressing health disparities and improving care in developing nations.

To help meet that demand and promote collaboration among the growing population of global health advocates and professionals, UCSF has taken the lead on a number of recent initiatives, including a newly launched UC Global Health Institute, a consortium of North American university global health programs, and the country’s first-ever master’s degree program in global health.

The new UCSF International Database helps users find out about past and current UCSF global health projects focusing on a variety of important issues, from disease prevention and research to health policy.

As one of the world’s top health sciences universities, UCSF has a “competitive advantage to play a transformative role in global health” because of its wealth of on-site experts in a wide range of fields, said Haile Debas, MD, former UCSF chancellor and executive director of UCSF Global Health Sciences.

Debas believes the UC Global Health Institute will help harness that expertise, not only at UCSF but throughout the 10-campus UC system. The institute’s administrative headquarters will be located at UCSF and it will be jointly led by Debas and Tom Coates, PhD, the Michael and Sue Steinberg Professor of Global AIDS Research at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and formerly of UCSF.

Initially, the institute will comprise three multi-campus, multidisciplinary centers of expertise focusing on migration and health; water, animals, food and society; and women’s health and empowerment.

The institute also will offer a variety of education programs, beginning with a one-year master’s degree program that is expected to enroll students in 2011. Eventually, the institute’s leaders hope to offer two-year Master of Science and PhD programs, with degrees granted by the campus on which the students conduct their work.

Pioneering Global Health Education

Such programs will be modeled after UCSF’s own Master’s Program in Global Health Sciences, which graduated its first class of seven students in July. The 12-month program more than doubled in size this year, to 18 students.

UCSF Launches Global Health Database

To help the UCSF community navigate the rapidly expanding list of the University’s global health activities, UCSF Global Health Sciences and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) have created a comprehensive online directory of projects and experts.

The UCSF International Database provides current information about ongoing fieldwork. It also includes a map feature that displays photos and text related to both past and present projects.

Nina Agabian, PhD, interim director of research for Global Health Sciences and director of CTSI’s Global Health Program, said she hopes the database “will foster collaborations here and abroad, inform the campus about work and study opportunities, educate the press and public about UCSF’s expansion in the global arena, and become an exciting visual map of UCSF’s efforts to advance health worldwide™.

Through the Global Health Sciences website, users can also access UCSF’s Global Research Enterprise (G-RES) information portal, which provides answers to frequently asked questions regarding international collaboration, including compliance, grants administration, and travel and safety procedures.

Current master’s candidate Teri Ann Reynolds, MD, PhD, said she was drawn to the program because it takes a systematic approach to understanding the many complex factors that contribute to health disparities, from poverty to environment to politics. The support Reynolds has received from UCSF to pursue her passion for global health —combined with the University’s “outstanding medical training”— has been invaluable, she said.

UCSF’s pioneering program has tapped into a growing trend: A survey of 37 universities in the U.S. and Canada found that the number of graduate students enrolled in global health more than doubled between 2006 and 2009, from 949 to 2,010.

In addition, roughly 100 North American universities have developed global health programs, most of them in the last few years, according to the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH), an initiative, chaired by Debas, that aims to develop global health as an academic discipline and form international networks and partnerships to support global health professionals.

Laying Groundwork for the Future

Participants in those university-based programs may someday join the ranks of the more than 400 UCSF faculty researchers working to advance health in more than 100 countries, according to UCSF Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH.

UCSF student Teri Ann Reynolds, left, discusses what drew her toward a career in global health as part of a Nov. 9 panel that included Christopher Elias, president and CEO of PATH, and Joe Rospars, a founding partner of Blue State Digital.

At a Nov. 9 public forum on “Why Global Health Matters to California,” Desmond-Hellmann credited her own experience as a visiting UCSF faculty member at the Uganda Cancer Institute in the 1980s with opening her eyes to the urgent health needs of vulnerable populations throughout the world.

On Nov. 3, UCSF leaders signed a memorandum of understanding with King’s College London to pursue a strategic partnership in research, education and clinical care. And a week earlier, UCSF and the Aga Khan University announced a partnership to help the world’s underprivileged by creating integrated primary health care models across East Africa and Asia with an emphasis on reducing maternal, newborn and child mortality and morbidity. The agreement between the universities will include training and educating health care providers in developing countries.

UC Davis PhD candidate Karen Shapiro, left, and Stanford University senior Braden Lake appear at UCSF as part of a Nov. 9 panel of students who are pursuing careers in global health.

Desmond-Hellmann said UCSF’s global health efforts are tied to each of her five main priorities — patients, discovery, education, people and business — and she promised to continue to expand the University’s global reach. Serving the local, regional and global communities and eliminating health disparities is also part of the vision outlined in the UCSF Strategic Plan, released in 2007.

Due to the “groundswell of interest now” in global health, it may take a little while for supply to catch up with demand, said UCSF alumnus Christopher Elias, MD, MPH, who joined Desmond-Hellmann, Debas and other global health leaders at the Nov. 9 forum. The event was presented by UCSF Global Health Sciences and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“But the time has come,” said Elias, the president and CEO of the Seattle-based Seattle-based nonprofit PATH. “I’m very hopeful about what can happen as we build the global health workforce of the future.”

Photos by Susan Merrell

Related Links:

UCSF Global Health Sciences 

UC Launches Institute to Address Global Health’s $75 Billion Impact on California
UCSF News Release, Nov. 9, 2009

UCSF to Pursue Strategic Partnership with King’s College London
UCSF Today, Nov. 12, 2009-11-13

Aga Khan University and UCSF Form Partnership to Help Underprivileged
UCSF News Release, Nov. 2, 2009

UCSF Students First in United States to Receive Master’s Degree in Global Health
UCSF Today, July 29, 2009

Consortium of Universities for Global Health