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Top schools form global health consortium

November - December, 2008  |  Volume 7, Issue 6

A woman points to a bulletin board while speaking to a woman

Leaders from 20 top North American universities agreed recently to promote collaboration in global health research, training and practice.

First proposed in 2004 by Dr. Gerald Keusch, associate provost for global health at Boston University and a former Fogarty director, the University Consortium for Global Health was launched this fall with the simple vision to "make the university a transforming force in global health."

Fogarty Deputy Director Dr. Michael Johnson attended the organizing meeting, noting later that "Fogarty grants have played an important role in the development of global health centers. A consortium of such centers seems to be a natural outgrowth of the Fogarty Frameworks program to get researchers from many disciplines out of their silos, working together, and into the field--their fields and their colleagues' fields."

This was the third discussion held to develop such an academic partnership--a 2007 meeting settled on 10 principles that this year's executive committee adopted--and the 53 participants immediately agreed to open the consortium eventually to universities in other parts of the world and strive for greater gender, ethnic and geographical diversity in its own leadership.

The September consortium launch included only 20 global health programs at North American universities that met criteria established by the initiators: a commitment of institutional resources and a director reporting to the central administration; interdisciplinary involvement of more than one academic school; activities that include education, training, research and health service delivery; and established international partnerships.

Despite an explosion in student and faculty interest in global health, establishing a solid academic base faces challenges, organizers said, not the least of which is an agreed-upon definition of global health.

Also, they said, there is no standardized curriculum or set of core competencies, "field placement of students has been chaotic" and little coordination exists between "north" universities working in the global "south" to avoid duplication and promote collaboration.

Dr. Haile Debas hosted the meeting at the University of California, San Francisco, which was supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

He urged participants to move beyond their individual disciplines and "create a big global health tent that can house all of us, promote collaboration and dispel the disciplinary turf battles that have divided us.

The consortium's initial members are: Boston University, Brown, Case Western Reserve, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, McGill, Notre Dame, UCSF, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Michigan, North Carolina, Penn, University of Toronto, Virginia, University of Washington, Vanderbilt, and Washington State.

The consortium plans to meet again next Sept. 14-15 at the NIH. 

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