Academic Centers Push to Improve Global Health

Ben Cole, for HealthLeaders Media , September 15, 2009

Boston University has announced a $10 million global health investment as it launches its Center for Global Health and Development that is designed to bolster research and education to improve health in developing countries.

The CGHD is a team of clinicians, social scientists, and economists based at BU's School of Public Health "that strives to improve health and quality of life of people throughout the developing world by conducting applied research that treats health as a medical social development and economic issue," according to the CGHD Web site.

Boston University President Robert A. Brown officially announced the CGHD program at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health first annual meeting that was held this week and hosted by the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD.

The BU program and the CUGH meeting reflect a trend at universities across the country as they expand research and career training in global health. As part of the conference, the CUGH released results of a survey that found the number of students enrolled in global health programs in North American universities doubled in three years due to increased interest in careers that address health disparities and disease prevention in developing countries.

Thirty-seven universities participated in the survey, which found:

  • The number of undergraduate students enrolled in global health grew from 1,286 to 2,687 between 2006 and 2009
  • The number of graduate students enrolled has more than doubled from 949 in 2006 to 2,010 in 2009
  • The number of student organizations focused on global health has surged: The 37 university programs listed 105 active student organizations, an average of almost three per campus
  • Universities have rapidly established training and education programs around the world. The 37 universities are involved in a combined 302 programs that have been in place for at least one year in 97 countries

"The survey findings reflect an unprecedented increase in student interest in global health education that is imposing hefty demands on universities to not only provide classes but also hands-on experiences in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America," according to a CUGH release accompanying the survey.

James W. Wagner, president of Emory University in Atlanta, said in a statement that most incoming freshmen in universities and colleges already have an appreciation of the global community due to the culture they grew up in.

"The news items that stick in their heads are almost all global–they remember 9/11, and realize that political boundaries don't stop terrorism," Wagner said. "They remember SARS, the West Nile virus, and now swine flu–so they know that political boundaries don't stop disease. They have grown up as global citizens demonstrably more so than prior generations."

Also during the CUGH meeting, eight university presidents released a joint statement urging the United States to use the resources of universities to respond to global health needs and support a new generation of global health workers.

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