Recap: The Role of Universities for Global Health

Tachi Yamada quoted Bill Gates in saying humankind’s greatest advances are not the actual scientific discoveries, but are figuring out how to apply those discoveries. That thread wove through Monday morning’s session on the role of universities in global health.

“What can universities provide to problems of global health that nobody else can provide? The answer is innovation,” said Yamada, president, Global Health Programs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For example, academic researchers tackling malaria are looking at ways of confusing mosquitos, using infrared light to block mosquitos from an area, and using airport screening technologies to get rid of the parasites that cause malaria. But Yamada added that a good research solution cannot do much good if it cannot be effectively delivered to the targeted populations.

He and Jean William Pape, director of GHESKIO centers in Haiti, which concentrates on HIV and TB counseling and care, noted that a nation’s culture, economy, education levels and environmental factors can be linked to public health — and vice versa. “You cannot have an economy that is sustainable unless you have people survive the first few months of life,” Yamada said. “Using culture to reach the (health) goal is the objective,” Pape said  

Meanwhile, Susan Desmond-Hellman, chancellor of the University of California at San Francisco, outlined advantages and problems of working with businesses in tackling global health problems. Private businesses provide vast amounts of talent and technologies — as well as usually having good intentions. They have delivery and development expertise. They know how to work with regulators. The biomedical and pharmaceutical industries have resources to address disease prevention.

She said problems include having businesses getting confused on whether specific global health efforts are business or charitable ventures. They are unsure about how global health fits into their priorities. And funding can become inconsistent from year to year.

All the panelists stressed building strong relationships within and among the academic, government and business worlds.

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