UCSF Symposium On Building Better Global Health Systems

By Kathleen Masterson

The importance of ensuring that international aid efforts help developing countries build more effective health systems was a guiding theme of UCSF’s sold-out symposium, “The Science of Global Health: What's Next,” on Oct. 2.

Landmark Growth in Global Health at UCSF

This month, Global Health Sciences celebrates the 10-year anniversary since its founding as a formal program.

  • Read more about the program's explosive growth and the global health leaders currently assembled at UCSF.
  • See the new Mission Hall, where global health faculty will be gathered under one roof for the first time.

The event featured panel discussions on topics ranging from Ebola to maternal health to neglected tropics diseases to Rwanda’s astounding success in reducing mortalities.

Jaime Sepulveda, Executive Director of UCSF Global Health Sciences, thanked the star-studded panels for sharing their wisdom, as well as the donor Charles Feeney for supporting the construction of Mission Hall, the Global Health & Clinical Sciences Building. It will bring the university’s many global health faculty together under one roof for the first time, a physical marker of the growth of UCSF’s global health research since its inception a quarter-century ago

Getting Ahead of the Next Global Crisis

Much of the pandemic discussion centered around Ebola, which many panelists noted has only further highlighted the deficiencies in health care systems around the world, and - perhaps more importantly - our collective failure to create a safety net that is truly global.

In today’s era where people jet around the globe, crossing formerly formidable geographical boundaries like mountains and oceans in several hours, building a more robust, coordinated global health system is vital for everyone 

UCSF and the Ebola Response

UCSF is working on several fronts to respond to this health crisis, supporting its faculty and staff volunteers in West Africa, preparing its Medical Center facilities and educating the public about the outbreak.

Learn more

In the global health community, “we spend time arguing about AIDS vs. TB— the pathogens must be cheering us on as we are house divided,” said Paul Farmer, a professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard University. It’s not about any one disease, he said. “It’s about creating a health system with surveillance and public health capacity.”

A more thorough and effective global health system would address a wide range of health issues that harm or prove fatal for millions of lives, but don’t always make the news, panelists said. For one, neglected tropical diseases affect millions in both the developing world, and in wealthier countries.

Even something as seemingly simple as improving education and resources for essential surgery in developing countries would have a huge impact, said Haile Debas, director of the UC Global Health Institute, noting that half million women die from complications in labor and roughly 5 million people die from accidents and other trauma.  

Building Better Health Care from the Ground Up

Indeed, Dan Kelly said that the Ebola crisis has shed light on the health care needs of post-conflict countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia; their “fragile health care systems are not set up not to respond appropriately even before Ebola.”

“I believe with a resurrected health system … we can change the course of this epidemic, we can stop innocent lives dying,” said Kelly. “There needs to be an emphasis not just on Ebola treatment units, which we’ve seen, but we haven’t seen as much the idea that we’re creating a continuum of care. That’s a vision we need to have together.”

A key part of the solution, many panelists affirmed, is building stronger partnerships with health care providers from developing countries.

“We need to step into partnerships with countries in a way that’s different from the postcolonial, top-down, prescriptive funding – which is often insensitive to changing needs of the community,” said Eric Goosby, director of the Institute for Global Health Delivery & Diplomacy at UCSF. It’s vital that the leadership come from the communities, and provincial and national levels, rather than be dictated by outside, wealthy donors.

In closing, Sepulveda echoed Goosby and other panelists’ comments when he said “we do need to do better on diversity in global health.”

Photos by Cindy Chew.