A Decade In, UCSF Emerges as a Global Health Powerhouse

By Laura Kurtzman

Jaime Sepulveda, MD, DSc, MPH, executive director of UCSF Global Health Sciences. Photo by Elisabeth Fall

International health research at UCSF got its start in the late 1980s, with a small AIDS program in Uganda. A quarter-century later, it is a global research enterprise, with 600 UCSF investigators working in 190 countries.

UCSF’s Global Health Sciences now embraces all that the University has to offer: basic science, social science and clinical care, along with education and emerging areas that incorporate policy and diplomacy.

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This month, Global Health Sciences celebrates the 10-year anniversary since its founding as a formal program with two major events: the opening of Mission Hall, where global health faculty will be gathered under one roof for the first time, and an international symposium on global health, featuring many of the giants in the field.

The goal of the conference is to explore what is coming next in global health, so that scientific efforts are targeted in the best way.

“As an academic health sciences university, UCSF plays a critical role in helping to set the global health agenda,” said Jaime Sepulveda, MD, DSc, MPH, executive director of Global Health Sciences. “That’s what we’re doing with this symposium and with our day-to-day work.”

The symposium agenda sprang, in part, out of the recent Science special issue on global health. Sepulveda and UCSF Global Health Sciences were key partners in developing the issue, which includes a perspective from Sepulveda on the state of global health in 2014.

“UCSF has always been science-driven,” Sepulveda said. “That’s why our program is called Global Health Sciences. It’s an indication that we aim to bring the same rigor to this new field of knowledge that we have to all of the University’s other endeavors.”

The Opening of Mission Hall

UCSF Global Health Sciences is moving into its own space at the Mission Bay campus, for the first time bringing together all its faculty and staff under one roof. Mission Hall, also known as the Global Health & Clinical Sciences Building, officially opened on Oct. 1 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Find out more about UCSF's newest building.

UCSF scientists are working on major killers, like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, as well as lesser-known threats, like dengue, Chagas’ disease and River Blindness. They are studying how programs work – and why some work better in some places than others. And they are asking the tough questions about how to build health systems in countries that are only now becoming economically strong enough to support them.

Educators are training students at UCSF for global careers and helping clinicians around the world with massive online open enrollment courses, while researchers are mentoring young scientists abroad on research projects and training health workers through large community-based trials.

UCSF faculty are also contributing to major policy debates. Several played key roles in the Lancet Commission on Investing in Health, which laid out a 20-year plan to increase the amount spent on health in poor countries and improve access to care, while calling on the global community to expand research and development for diseases that disproportionately affect poor countries. Together, these efforts could save 10 million lives.

Most recently, Sepulveda and other UCSF faculty have added their voices to the debate over the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 by urging that the sole health goal now planned for inclusion be practical, concrete and include measurable targets, such as a 40 percent reduction in premature mortality.

These efforts show the strength of Global Health Sciences as it enters its second decade. The program has attracted the leading minds in the field – most recently Eric Goosby, MD, President Barack Obama’s former global AIDS coordinator, and Harvey Fineberg, MD, PhD, former head of the Institute of Medicine – to join a growing powerhouse of global health influencers at UCSF.

“We are having a real influence in shaping global health priorities,” Sepulveda said. “It would be hard to find the same concentration of high-caliber global health leaders anywhere else in a single university.”

Here are some of the faculty members that are leading the way at UCSF Global Health Sciences:

Eric Goosby, MD

Area of impact: Goosby is a pioneer of global HIV care. He was President Obama’s Global AIDS Coordinator and head of PEPFAR from 2009 to 2014 and has spent many years working on the problem of how to deliver health care in developing countries with weak health systems.

What he’s doing: Now back at UCSF, where he trained as a physician, Goosby has started the Institute for Global Health Delivery & Diplomacy, a joint proposal with the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

How he wants to change the world: Goosby’s overarching goal is to make sure that the billions of dollars in foreign aid and the investments that developing nations are increasingly making for themselves truly strengthen their health systems and create the capacity to improve people’s health over the long term.

Sir Richard Feachem, KBE, PhD, DSc(Med)

Area of impact: Sir Richard is director of the Global Health Group. He came to UCSF from the World Bank in 1999 to establish the Institute for Global Health, a joint program with UC Berkeley. In 2002, he was seconded from UCSF to serve as the founding executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Under Secretary General of the UN. He returned in 2007 to establish the Global Health Group, a unit within Global Health Sciences. 

What he’s doing: Sir Richard runs the Global Health Group, which is a nimble research, policy and implementation team of around 50 talented young professionals. The Global Health Group has three areas of concentration: 1) supporting 34 countries that have pledged to eliminate malaria in the near future; 2) studying and promoting the role of the private sector in healthcare delivery, a neglected area of research; and 3) driving the use of evidence on what works, to inform global health financing and policy.

How he wants to change the world: Sir Richard is committed to eliminating malaria from the planet by 2050. He is one of a number of influential leaders to champion this idea, which has been embraced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He's also working to greatly strengthen health care delivery in low and middle-income countries by harnessing the technical and managerial expertise of the private sector.

Dean Jamison, PhD

Area of impact: Jamison is an expert on global health economics and a senior fellow in Global Health Sciences at UCSF. He was the lead author of the 1993 World Bank report that inspired Bill & Melinda Gates to give away their fortune.

What he’s doing: Jamison recently served as co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Investing in Health. He is the leader of the Disease Control Priorities Project, which produces guides that are widely used in low-income countries to guide spending on health care.

How he wants to change the world: Jamison would like to see all countries emerging from poverty achieve the dramatic gains in health that science now makes possible. Wealthy countries can help by increasing their spending on R&D for diseases that disproportionately affect poor countries. Reducing child and maternal mortality and cutting death rates from infection could save 10 million lives by 2035.

Haile Debas, MD

Area of impact: Debas is a former chancellor, dean of the School of Medicine and chair of surgery at UCSF. He was the founding executive director of UCSF Global Health Sciences. He is recognized internationally for his contributions to academic medicine and is widely consulted on issues associated with global health. 

What he’s doing: Debas is director of the University of California Global Health Institute, Global Health Advisor to UCSF and a lead editor of the Essential Surgery volume of Disease Control Priorities, Third Edition.

How he wants to change the world: Debas, who is from Eritrea and went to college in Ethiopia, would like to see a collective effort by the basic science community in the United States to revitalize science education and research in sub-Saharan African universities, which has degraded after years of disinvestment.

Paul Volberding, MD

Area of impact: Volberding, a hematologist, started the world’s first AIDS unit in 1983 at San Francisco General Hospital. He was a leader in early clinical trials to evaluate antiretroviral therapy in HIV infection.

What he’s doing: He is director of UCSF's AIDS Research Institute, director of research for UCSF Global Health Sciences and co-director of the UCSF-Gladstone Center for AIDS Research. He chairs the International Antiviral Society-USA panel, one of the two major guidelines panels for antiretroviral therapy.

How he wants to change the world: Until a vaccine is found that can prevent new infections, Volberding is devoting himself to making sure that the best HIV/AIDS care is available to the most people, especially those who live in resource-limited setting.

Molly Cooke, MD

Area of impact: Cooke is a medical ethicist, educator and HIV-care expert who directs education for Global Health Sciences. She was a member of the ‘dream team' that from 1999 to 2012 revolutionized medical education at UCSF and served as the founding director of the Haile T. Debas Academy of Medical Educators. She is an author of a seminal text on medical education, "Educating Physicians: A Call for Reform of Medical School and Residency." 

What she’s doing: Cooke is finding ways to use education and faculty development to address the health problems of underserved populations around the word, from urban San Francisco, to California’s Central Valley, to sub-Saharan Africa. 

How she wants to change the world: Education, or ‘drawing out’ people’s best capabilities can change the world. We aspire to eliminate health disparities by preparing global health leaders – in San Francisco and around the world – who tackle critical health problems through strengthened health professions education, improved clinical care and public health performance and better health systems management.  

Harvey Fineberg, MD, PhD

Claim to fame: Fineberg is the immediate past president of the Institute of Medicine. Fineberg has played an influential role in American health policy, particularly in the areas of vaccine use, AIDS prevention, clinical decision making and the uses of medical technology.

What he’s doing: Fineberg is spending a year at UCSF as a Presidential Chair, writing and lecturing about global health policy and analysis. He is the keynote speaker at the geography of infectious diseases Science of Global Health symposium.

How he wants to change the world: Fineberg believes that the universal aspiration for better health creates common ground among all peoples. He wants global health to improve human wellbeing and to be a tool to promote understanding and peace.

Mary Wilson, MD

Area of impact: Wilson is an infectious disease expert at Harvard University and editor of Disease in Evolution: Global Changes and Emergence of Infectious Diseases. She has served on the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices of the CDC and the Academic Advisory Committee for the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico. She co-developed and led the Harvard-Brazil collaborative course taught in Brazil.

What she’s doing: Wilson is a visiting professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UCSF and is moderating the panel on the unfinished agenda of neglected tropical diseases at the UCSF Science of Global Health Symposium. She is a special advisor to the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network, a global network, and a medical editor for the CDC Health Information for International Travel. She serves on the Board of Trustees for icddr,b (International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh).

How she wants to change the world: Wilson is interested in the role of travel and trade in the geography of infectious diseases. She wants a global surveillance system that can detect perturbations that indicate risk for disease outbreaks and that is linked to rapid, effective response and interventions to avert spread.

George Rutherford, MD

Area of impact: Rutherford is an epidemiologist and pediatrician who works primarily in public health research. He investigates the epidemiology and control of infectious diseases, particularly HIV in the developing world.

What he does: Rutherford directs the Prevention and Public Health Group in UCSF Global Health Sciences. He is an advisor to the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV and AIDS and was the first chair of the Department of Veterans Affairs Research Advisory Council.

How he would like to change the world: Rutherford wants more timely and rational consideration of data to drive public health and clinical decisions. The world is awash in data that are not being fully utilized. He believes that using these data and modestly augmenting them with new data will transform how we perceive and respond to epidemics.

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