Getting a Jump on Global Change

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This was a prevailing sentiment at the Center for Global Public Health’s (CGPH) inaugural research symposium, which focused on global change and urban health in the 21st century. Participants discussed three trends that
will shape the future of global health: climate change, population migration, and economic globalization. But
they also agreed that there is a lot of research, knowledge, and expertise out there that just isn’t being translated
into results.

crowdSchool of Public Health Professor Eva Harris, faculty director of CGPH, is familiar with this frustration. She and other faculty members founded the center in July 2007 with the mission of getting beyond the status quo and embracing interdisciplinary approaches to solving global health problems. Together with the Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases, CGPH is part of the larger Berkeley Alliance for Global Health, which connects more than 80 faculty members from 12 different departments and schools to address the health challenges of the world’s underserved populations.

“I thought about all the long-term international research initiatives already at the School,” said Harris, “and realized that we have such a wealth of experience, collaborators, and data available to share with each other. The potential to harness these resources, take action, and improve health on a global scale is just enormous.”

The spring symposium built on the center’s interdisciplinary mission, and provided a way for leaders in the global health field to share knowledge and take stock of their progress and future challenges. It also galvanized CGPH’s action initiative in global change.

“The field of global health has traditionally focused on the prevention, monitoring, and mitigation of disease,” says program director Mirriam Rafiq. “However, with environmental changes and mass migration compromising the health of vulnerable populations, public health researchers increasingly need to understand the problems these trends create and how to solve them.”

In both rural and urban regions of the globe, environmental changes are leading to increases in infectious and chronic diseases. So it’s more important than ever to collaborate on combating disease. As well, CGPH researchers can find themselves addressing the root causes— such as population, climate change, and migration—in addition to the health problems themselves.

It’s a task that can seem complicated and overwhelming. Building on what has already been accomplished in the field can be a help. To that end, part of the CGPH research and action initiative centers around field sites in Latin America, Asia, and Africa where CGPH faculty members already have longstanding research projects in place. One goal of this initiative is to link the cohorts in these field sites with more data and research from other faculty members, as well as use them for studies beyond the original work at each site. Faculty, staff, and students will investigate how to integrate the cohorts of CGPH’s researchers to collect common information, add unexplored research areas, and promote synergy between projects. For example, although Eva Harris’s research in Managua, Nicaragua, has primarily been focused on dengue fever, the cohort has recently been utilized for influenza research as well. (See Fresh Perspective.)map

“Because we already have the data on a large population and connections with the Ministry of Health and other entities in Nicaragua, we were able to quickly show that influenza is a major issue in the tropical region, and we were in place to lead the way on researching the recent H1N1 pandemic in Nicaragua,” says Harris.

Students, pre- and post-graduation, will also have an increased role at these field sites. The center hopes to build on its successful student research fellowship program, which supports eight master’s and doctoral students in the field each summer.

The overarching goal behind the center’s initiative is to ensure that Berkeley’s wealth of long-term research in the global health arena gets translated into action. Rafiq says, “We need to determine what strategies are sustainable and scalable, and what policy advice can be given to decision makers on how to implement those strategies.” end of line

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