University of California launches UC Global Health Institute

The 10 University of California campuses have aligned to undertake an unprecedented feat.

On Nov. 9, the UC system launched the UC Global Health Institute. Experts and students in various fields throughout the campuses will unite to study, research and promote awareness of global health.

The institute is comprised of three centers of expertise – women’s health and empowerment, migration and health and One Health: animals, food and society. The latter two are co-directed by UC Davis professors.

“[The institute is] one more example of the strength of the experts at UC Davis,” said Marc Schenker, UC Davis professor in the School of Medicine’s department of public health sciences and co-director of the migration and health center. “[The applications] were competitively reviewed and when they opened that envelope, [UC] Davis really rose to the top of the pile.”

The institute provides another option for students looking to further their education and research opportunities in global health.

It will admit its first class of graduate students in fall 2011 for a one-year master’s degree. The establishment of a two-year master’s and Ph.D. program will follow suit shortly. Students will participate in field projects that may include work with community health groups and organizations, county health departments and the state health department.

Schenker said the move to form an institute that goes beyond UC campus’ lines was an uncommon enterprise.

“The campuses tend to be very independent, and creating something that goes across campuses is pretty new,” Schenker said. “I have to say that it’s been very exciting because you’re bringing together people with a common interest on separate campuses and that process, for me, has been really positive.”

A coinciding UC study that emphasized global health’s $75 billion impact on the California economy was published alongside the announcement of the institute.

Michael Wilkes, director of global health for UC Davis and one of the original developers of the UC Global Health Institute, said it was this tie with global health that makes California the ideal place for such an institute.

“I think there was a general recognition that the state of California is tied very closely to global health,” Wilkes said. “So it was natural for us to get involved.”

The institute plans on being financially self-sufficient. Revenue will come in the form of gifts, grants and enrollment fees. Currently, the institute was awarded almost $4 million in start-up funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“I think this is a reflection of the Gates’ Foundation looking for where new knowledge is made,” said Claire Pomeroy, UC Davis vice chancellor for human health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine. “I think [the foundation] understood that it is the coming together of all the UC campuses that makes [the institute] a very special place.”

Although the institute is still in its infancy, Wilkes has major aspirations for its future. A fully fledged school will hopefully develop, along with the advancement of new technologies to better allow the full development of the institute’s goals. Wilkes also anticipates the collaboration of people across various fields working together to fulfill these aims.

The centers of expertise will concentrate on research as well as teaching. There will be an emphasis on building partnerships and working collaboratively with other organizations. The institute is meant to encompass both a school and research organization. For example, Schenker said research will serve as a means to facilitate practical applications.

“The basic goal [for the migration and health center] is to both understand the factors that affect the health of migrant populations and translate the findings into efforts that will improve the health of those individuals,” Schenker said.

Many agree; Pomeroy, Wilkes and Schenker included, that the task at hand is a large one.

“I think the goal of this institute is a huge goal and that is to make the global community stronger, healthier, more peaceful and more of a community,” Pomeroy said. “This is a big vision for the future of our world.”

KELLEY REES can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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