Tachi Yamada, president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, encouraged students and faculty to think of universities as the place to solve tomorrow’s health care problems, at a speech he delivered on campus yesterday.
Addressing a crowd of about 250 physicians, medical students and undergraduates in the Biomedical Science Research Building’s Kahn Auditorium, Yamada spoke about the program’s primary goal, “to reduce the number of unwanted deaths among children.”
The Global Health Program has several grant initiatives like Grand Challenges Explorations, which provides $100,000 to professional researchers or students who come up with a new idea for treating health conditions in developing nations.
Yamada said one invention that came out of this program was the Kangaroo Mother’s Care, a strap that a human mother can wear so that she has skin-to-skin contact with her baby. This allows low-birthweight infants to be warmer, promotes bonding and provides protection against infections.
He added that ideas for the Global Health Program could come from University students, adding that he noticed, “young people are thinking about larger, global problems.”
“I believe that universities should be the places where the world’s biggest problems are addressed,” he said.
With this in mind, Yamada told students in attendance that he “challenges” them and the University to support the foundation’s Global Health Program.
In addition to discussing possible student involvement in the program, Yamada also discussed the program’s efforts to invest in technology to discover and develop innovative solutions to problems in health care.
With a primary focus on South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, Yamada said the program tries to find answers to global health pandemics like HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, and other health issues like maternal and child health care.
These geographic regions were chosen as focal points for the program because they have some of the most pressing health concerns in the world but are largely neglected, according to Yamada.
“We invest in areas where nobody else invests or very little investment is made,” he said in an interview with reporters prior to his lecture.
One of the program’s major investments is in vaccines, which Yamada said cost very little but have the potential to save many lives.
During his speech, Yamada said the program will continue this investment, as it recently made a $10 billion commitment to provide vaccines to places in need over the next 10 years.
Yamada also talked about other areas of health care that need to be addressed, like infant mortality, for which vaccines do not necessarily provide a solution. Instead, other cost-effective methods like using sterile knives to cut umbilical cords or preventing the usage of dirty water to wash babies can be implemented.
Though the program’s initiatives have been successful thus far, Yamada said that India — where several of the foundation’s programs have been launched — is an example of a country that has lingering health care problems. Thirty percent of child deaths throughout the world are in India, according to Yamada.
Yamada said while this statistic is significant, he is more appalled by the fact that 48 percent of children in India are undernourished.
“The problem of child health is one that lasts way beyond limited years of childhood itself,” he said.
Yamada said one of the problems the program has encountered in India and other countries is the problem of delivering the health solutions, which is something that he said requires further innovation.
But Yamada said the program isn’t only about dealing with health care issues in developing nations, adding that some of the solutions can be applied to the United States.
“The solutions are going to come from lessons we’ve learned from experiences in the developing world,” he said.
John Kettley, the clinical manager of the University’s Psychiatry Emergency Services who was in attendance at the lecture, said he felt the program’s solutions to prenatal care could “readily apply in the United States.”
Dele Davies, chair of Michigan State University’s Department of Pediatrics and Human Development, who was also in attendance said he feels impediments to health care in the United States stem from the nation’s view that it’s above other countries and therefore refuses to learn from them.
“I think there’s some ideas we maybe don’t adopt as quickly because we think we know better,” he said.
Susan Woolford, a pediatrician in the Child Health Evaluation and Research unit at the University Hospital, said she thinks Yamada discussed some important elements of treating global health problems and provided some innovative ideas for how to further the cause.
“I thought the idea of universities here being very invested in solving the problems that are globally very important was an inspirational thought and something that hopefully we can do more of,” she said.