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Commission Urges Long-Term Health Strategy

Brown, Shaheen to speak at BU regional conference

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SPH’s Gerald T. Keusch, Medical Campus special assistant to the president and senior advisor to the director of global health, says that “BU is seen as an academic and research institution that shines,” and further, that “universities must recognize that global health is about much more than health professions; it engages engineering, management, anthropology, behavioral sciences, dentistry.” Photo by Linda Haas

Adopting the nation’s first strategic, long-term global health policy would not only save lives and generate respect and goodwill for the United States, it would be a boon to academic research and collaborations between universities and industries developing health-care tools, from biotechnology to pharmaceuticals to diagnostics. This is the conclusion of a report from the Commission on Smart Global Health Policy, organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an influential Washington think tank.

The commission will present its findings at BU on Monday, April 26, and invite discussion from regional academic, political, and business leaders, including President Robert A. Brown and commission member U.S. Senator Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.). Harvard Provost Steve Hyman, Phil Dormitzer, senior director of Novartis, BU and Harvard faculty, government and nonprofit representatives, and students from the BU School of Public Health as well as from Brown, Harvard, Dartmouth, and Yale are among those attending the conference, which begins at 10:30 a.m.

In a synopsis of the report, which was discussed in a briefing before the U.S. House of Representatives Global Health Caucus, the commission outlines five steps that can help the nation make huge strides in the next 15 years. In addition to maintaining its commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis worldwide, the reports states, the United States should move “swiftly and resolutely” to improve the health of women and children. Other goals include strengthening prevention and the capability of managing health emergencies and ensuring that the United States has the budget and firm policy necessary to match its global health ambitions, including the appointment of a senior global health coordinator in the Secretary of State’s office. The report also urges Congress to make smart investments in so-called multilateral institutions, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

BU Today spoke with conference panelist Gerald Keusch, a School of Public Health professor of international health and Medical Campus special assistant to the president and senior advisor to the director of global health, about the report’s potential implications for the University, the nation, and the future of global health.

BU Today: How has the nation’s perspective on global health changed since the Obama administration began?
Keusch:
The important thing that’s starting to happen is that global health isn’t just about HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB, which was the focus of the previous administration. This administration has moved forward a bit by saying its policies will include maternal and child health, and there’s discussion about smart public health policy. The Bush administration’s record on global health was awful. I was in National Institutes of Health for three years under that administration; it was very politically oriented and not strategic.

How do you feel about the commission’s findings?
The CSIS report goes a long way, but it doesn’t go far enough. The report doesn’t provide an analysis of the coming epidemics, such as tobacco-related diseases, road accidents, and the health impact of violence, psychiatric disorders, heart disease, and stroke. The report doesn’t say that we need to be thinking broadly and strategically.

What is role of universities in devising a global health strategy?
This administration has committed $63 million to public health. We want some of that for the academic sector. What academic institutions do best is help students achieve their vision, and the students are the next generation of leaders. What I’ve pushed forward is looking through the lens of academic, technology, and private sectors working together along with the local political leadership. In New England we have very strong academic institutions, as well as biotech and pharma, that might develop new diagnostics, vaccines, and drugs. To me the big global health issue is building up expertise, drawing investment in partnerships, and cultivating the next generation of leaders.

Why is student input so important to forging global health strategy?
We did a survey of 37 institutions to see, among other things, what’s changed in the last three years with the global health track. Interest has doubled over that time. Almost 40 percent of public health students today are enrolled in international health programs. There’s an interest and an excitement about global health that’s echoed on campus after campus. The change has happened in the last decade, with World AIDS Day, and we see it here at BU with Alternative Spring Break and other activities; students get involved in service.

How has BU set an example for advancing global health? What more can be done?
There is a BU-centric component to the commission’s work and the University’s hosting the conference. One reason we’re the host is that BU is seen as an academic and research institution that shines; it’s a pragmatic institution; we’re a leader. But all universities must recognize that global health is about much more than health professions; it engages engineering, management, anthropology, behavioral sciences, dentistry — there are multiple disciplines, and very few institutions have tried to provide linkages.

The Future of Global Health conference, free and open to the public, is on Monday, April 26, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Metcalf Trustees Center, One Silber Way, ninth floor. More information and registration are available here.

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

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