In today’s interconnected society, health issues in one country are hardly problems for that particular nation alone.
When the World Health Organization called a meeting last Thursday to discuss the development and distribution of Ebola vaccines, the gathering included representatives from governments, the pharmaceutical industry, research institutions and medical nonprofit groups.
Traditionally, organizations like WHO have been the dominant figures in global health research compared to universities.
However, Joseph Kolars, the director of the University’s Global Research, Education, and Collaboration in Health program, said universities must take a more active role in tackling global health issues.
“Universities in general should be struggling with the problems of the common good and how to be relevant to the problems of the society,” Kolars said.
Founded in 2001, Global REACH is an organization at the University Medical School that aims to create an institution-wide organization for improving global health and healthcare.
Last year, faculty members associated with Global REACH secured $127 million in grants from outside institutions for global health-related research and authored more than a hundred publications related to the topic of global health.
The program also fosters partnerships with institutions around the world to promote clinical research. The Joint Institute for Translational and Clinical Research, for example, is a partnership between the University and Peking University Health Science Center in China that focuses on cardiovascular, liver, pulmonary and renal disease.
In addition to collaborating with other institutions to promote clinical research, Global REACH supports interdisciplinary projects not only in medicine and public health, but also in education, engineering, business and public policy.
The Ethiopia-Michigan Platform for Advancing Collaborative Engagement has also established partnerships between the University and Ethiopian institutions.
The first team of students traveled to Ethiopia this past summer. The students focused on one of four themes: water and environmental science and engineering, science teaching, encouraging private sector engagement in public health care provision or maternal health technology.
Jamila Yakubu, program manager of the Ethiopia Platform, said the program is interdisciplinary by design.
“Both faculty and student participants were very interdisciplinary,” she said. “The goal of the program is to not just focus on medicine but to bring in participants (from) across the University.”
Global REACH is currently engaged in projects in five countries: Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Ghana and India. Broader collaboration usually stems from partnerships between two faculty members or laboratories that branch out into larger networks.
Though partnerships abroad are not unique to the University, Kolars said Global REACH alliances emphasize sharing the responsibility for funding and decision-making.
“(The Joint Institute for Translational and Clinical Research) is jointly funded and jointly administered,” he said. “And each grant proposed for funding has to have faculty members from both institutions.”
Dedicating a team of scholars to track needs and goals of the partnering institutions also contributes to success, especially when the institutions are located in two different countries.
Collaboration Core, a program of the Joint Institute, was established to help facilitate the partnership between University and Peking University.
Amy Huang, Global REACH’s director for China programs, said the Core is responsible for researching the science of collaboration and formulating strategies for successful communication and project management.
“The members (of the Core) have facilitated discussions about culture differences,” she said. “What is very simple here does not necessarily translate to Chinese culture.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article stated that WHO was a non-governmental organization. It is a coordinating authority within the United Nations, which is in turn a body representing its member governments.