UCSF's First Bay Area Global Health Summit Stimulates, Solidifies Ideas

Sir Richard Feachem, executive director of UCSF’s Global Health Sciences, makes a point about improving medical schools in developing countries.

How best can wealthier nations like the United States improve the health of people in poorer, less developed countries? And within this broad mission, can major universities, including UCSF, play an effective role?

The goal of UCSF’s first-ever Bay Area Global Health Summit, held on Oct. 13 at Mission Bay, wasn’t to come up with concrete answers for these sweeping questions, but to ignite robust discussion in hopes of stimulating ideas that lead to tangible progress, said Sir Richard Feachem, KBE, DSc (Med), PhD, executive director of UCSF’s Global Health Sciences (GHS).

More than 500 people came to UCSF’s first-ever Bay Area Global Health Summit on Oct. 13 at Mission Bay.

Feachem also directs the GHS Global Health Group, an “action tank” dedicated to identifying, elaborating and translating innovative solutions to major global health challenges into large-scale action to advance health and save lives in low- and middle-income countries.

Feachem is among UCSF global health experts who outlined a new strategy and action plan to bring the world closer to global eradication of malaria. Their strategy appears in a series of papers on malaria elimination in the Nov. 5 issue of the leading medical journal The Lancet and will be formally presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Atlanta, Georgia. Read the news release.

Commitment to Global Health

Feachem was appointed in April 1999 to be the founding director of the Institute for Global Health (IGH), a joint initiative of UCSF and UC Berkeley. He went on to become the founding executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and now, in addition to leading GHS and GHG, is professor of global health at both schools.

The day-long summit, which was hosted by the Global Health Group, drew a capacity crowd of more than 500 participants primarily from Bay Area universities, health organizations and corporations.  The summit convened prominent thought leaders from the Bay Area and around the world, including UCSF Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH; John Martin, chairman and chief executive officer of Gilead Sciences; Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; and Julio Frenk, former Mexican Minister of Health and now dean of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Global Health Summit Video

Watch the summit online at livestream.

“The summit generated an important and cutting-edge discussion among leading theorists and practitioners in global health,” Feachem said. “It confirmed and spotlighted the Bay Area commitment to global health and it reinforced my belief that leading universities such as UCSF have an enormously important role to play.”

The summit featured lively conversation led by panelists on such topics as the role of private business in global health; how to balance resources given pressing emergency and long-term health care needs; and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s major focus on malaria eradication (the Foundation helps fund several GHS initiatives).

Chancellor Desmond-Hellmann moderated a wrap-up session at the recent summit called “The Next Decade: Priorities for Action.”  Desmond-Hellmann is a strong supporter of UCSF’s global health efforts, one of the major directions in the UCSF Strategic Plan, which is being updated with a renewed focus in global health.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, talks about the role of social media in global health at the recent conference at UCSF Mission Bay.

Priorities from Different Perspectives

Panelists Amie Batson, deputy assistant administrator for global health at the US Agency for International Development; Nancy Birdsall, founding president of the non-profit Center for Global Development, and UCSF’s Feachem shared their views from their respective perspectives as a representative of the Obama administration, the director of a leading Washington DC-based think tank, and a global health leader at UCSF.

Batson enthusiastically introduced President Obama’s Presidential Policy on Development, which includes the Global Health Initiative. “It’s elevating development as a critical tool for global and US security to the same levels as defense and diplomacy and it’s acknowledging the strategic, economic and moral imperative that development has,” Batson said.

The President’s global health policy sets a roadmap for the nation’s role, focusing on achieving sustainable outcomes or improvements in health using a comprehensive definition, which includes illness and disease, such as tuberculosis or malaria, but also maternal and child health,  sanitation, water quality, and nutrition. Another key goal of the policy is on strengthening the delivery of health care systems by using and adapting innovative technology, such as mobile phones for rural areas.

The policy calls for working with other countries in partnership, and respecting their goals, needs, and programs. “Supplementing not substituting,” Batson said. “As much as the ‘what’ we’re trying to achieve is the ‘how’ we’re trying to achieve it.”

Birdsall of the Center for Global Development started her talk by saying, “Our mission is to push around the powers that be in the world, the rich countries, the major corporations, to be more development friendly.” Health is only one of the center’s areas, which also works on trade, migration, climate change, and technology transfer, she said.

Sir Richard Feachem, executive director of UCSF’s Global Health Sciences, left, poses with Haile Debas, emeritus chancellor and dean of the UCSF School of Medicine and past executive director of Global Health Sciences.

Birdsall, who said she welcomes President Obama’s policy, defined the center’s objectives as: improving the lives of people; transforming societies and policies to promote prosperous and stable sovereign nations which aren’t dependent on other countries; and tackling problems that are interconnected or shared by many countries, irrespective of borders, such as pandemics and climate change.

Global health, Birdsall said, is already one of the few global success stories, compared to other challenges. “Health may be the one area where we actually have serious, rigorous evaluation of big international scaled-up programs that have worked,” she said, citing malaria and family planning.

But the US and other developed countries continue to play a critical role in researching and devising methods and systems for measuring outcomes of health programs and policies, to learn what works and what doesn’t, Birdsall said. “We need the scientific and academic communities to do more to connect the outcomes we want (results) to the inputs we provide (aid and assistance).”

Defining UCSF’s Path to Global Health Leadership

Feachem sees many areas of agreement among the panelists at the global health summit. These include the importance of assisting developing countries in the areas where they’ve asked for help; in the local control and leadership of assistance projects; in strengthening health care delivery systems; and in supporting strategies that are proven effective.

Feachem’s other priorities include:

  • Providing greater transparency from the organizations and corporations who fund global health projects, as well as from those who receive the funds. “Demand accountability on both sides of the relationship,” said Feachem, who also stresses the need for greater innovation in public-private funding arrangements, “to do what neither can do on its own.”
  • Improving medical schools in developing countries, many of which are in poor shape, and have been seriously neglected, Feachem said. “Stronger universities, stronger medical schools produce the leadership and the local talent that will lead individual countries into the next decades.”
  • Promoting research that is aimed at quick, practical applications to poor communities. “We need to ensure that we’re always thinking on day one of a research project about the rapid scale-up and applicability of the tool—the technology, the drug, the vaccine—to the developing world; that this isn’t the afterthought. So that it can be applied next month in Tanzania, not in ten years.”

Photos by Alain McLaughlin

Related Links:

Bay Area Global Health Summit, UCSF Global Health Sciences

UCSF launches “action tank” to advance promising global health strategies,
UCSF News Release, December 3, 2007