UC-Wide Institute to Address Global Health Woes

Faculty and students from across UC's 10-campus system will join forces in the new University of California Global Health Institute. Thomas Coates, director of the UCLA Program in Global Health, will co-lead the institute.

By Alec Rosenberg for the UC Newsroom

PATRICIA CONRAD has studied sick cattle in Africa, discovered a parasitic killer of California sea otters and stared down a charging rhino.

Thomas Coates

Thomas Coates, director of the UCLA Program in Global Health, will co-lead the new instiitute.

But now she is undertaking what could be her boldest adventure yet: helping start the new University of California Global Health Institute. The institute, which officially launched Nov. 9, will bring together students and faculty from across UC's 10-campus system to address global health problems. Conrad will co-direct one of the institute's three multicampus centers of expertise, which will lead multidisciplinary education programs, develop research projects and implement solutions for pressing health issues.
"This year we saw how new diseases like H1N1 'swine flu' are only a short flight away from us in California and how within days they can spread worldwide," said Conrad, a professor in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. "We are both the recipients and the contributors to global health problems. Our students see this clearly and they want the practical skills, relevant knowledge and opportunity to help solve the resulting health problems in California and globally. Now is the best time for UC to help them prepare for that challenge."
Tom Coates, director of the UCLA Program in Global Health, and Haile Debas, M.D., executive director of UCSF Global Health Sciences, will lead the institute. The institute responds to the rising impact of global health challenges on California and to the demand from the nation's top postgraduate school applicants for programs addressing global health needs. It's an avenue for UC to fulfill its public service mission and could be a model for collaboration and innovation in education delivery.

"I think it's a great opportunity," said John Stobo, M.D., UC senior vice president for health sciences and services. "What UC can accomplish as a system far exceeds the sum of the individual contributions by campuses. We can bring our experience in areas such as clean water and engineering to take an integrated approach to addressing global health issues."

The institute is expected to begin enrolling students in fall 2011, with degrees granted by the UC campus on which the students conduct their work. It will begin with one-year master's degree programs and eventually will add two-year master's and doctoral degree programs.

Economic Impact

Global health represents more than a $75 billion impact on the California economy, according to a UC study released today at a UCSF conference that coincided with the institute launch. That impact includes an estimated $49.8 billion of revenue generated annually by California nonprofit, higher education and government entities and biotech, pharmaceutical, medical, software and environmental companies addressing global health needs. The study also found that the global health sector supports 350,000 high-quality jobs in California and provides $19.7 billion in wages and salaries and $8 billion in tax revenue for the state.
"Global health is a very important emerging industry," said Anil Deolalikar, a UC Riverside economics professor who worked on the economic impact study and co-directs the One Health: Water, Animals, Food and Society Center with Conrad. The other two centers will focus on women's health and health issues of migrating people.

"Many top universities are establishing global health programs," Deolalikar said. "It makes sense for the University of California as one of the premier research universities in the country to focus on this area. This is one of those fields where we can harness the power of 10."

What is global health?

Global health covers many fields, such as biological sciences, life sciences, social sciences, engineering, agriculture, veterinary medicine — and economics. The field of global health focuses on conditions that transcend national boundaries and reflect the realities of an increasingly global society: rapid movement of people, changing climates, competition for natural resources and manmade and natural disasters.
"The whole issue of cost-effectiveness is often overlooked," said Deolalikar, who has studied the most effective ways to eradicate hunger. "You can't look at health in isolation."
The One Health approach is global, holistic, comprehensive and collaborative, recognizing that the health of animals and people are inextricably linked with each other and the environment. The One Health Center will involve not only Davis and Riverside but also partner campuses at Berkeley, Irvine, UCLA, San Diego, UCSF, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.

Patricia Conrad

Patricia Conrad

Already, UC Davis has been looking in Africa at disease-causing agents that are shed in the feces of livestock, wildlife, pets and humans. These pathogens are carried by runoff into waterways, where they can be transmitted to humans and cause disease. Conrad is on sabbatical in Uganda, where she is discussing the One Health approach with scientists and laying the groundwork for possible institute collaborations.
As a postdoctoral student, Conrad examined a tick-transmitted parasite that was a major killer of cattle in Africa. At UC Davis, she has studied sea otters, finding that they were dying from single-celled parasites coming from cats and opossums — a problem tied to water contamination.

UC model for the future

"To solve these complex and difficult problems, we're going to need a multidisciplinary and transformative approach to discovery," said Michael Wilkes, M.D., a UC Davis professor of global health who was one of the initial leaders of the institute planning and will be involved with the One Health Center. "This type of out-of-the-box thinking hasn't happened often within UC. Our university is built with silos within silos. Our approach will break down those barriers and allow students and faculty to work, learn and discover across disciplines."
The institute also is expected to incorporate videoconferencing and online courses, bringing together different people in different locations. "I hope the technology that drives this institute will be a model for the entire UC system," Wilkes said.
"The Global Health Institute is the wave of the future," Deolalikar said. "Especially given the budget crisis, this is the way the UC system is going to have to evolve."
UC has a two-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help plan the institute, which will be self-supporting and depend on gifts, grants and revenue from enrollment fees. A systemwide steering committee will be established to report to a leadership group of Stobo, UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake and UC Berkeley Public Health School Dean Stephen Shortell.
Conrad hopes the institute will lead to a systemwide UC School of Global Health. That could take several years, but Conrad isn't one to avoid a challenge. Take for example the time she accompanied a wildlife biologist/veterinarian tracking an injured black rhino in South Africa. When he went in after the rhino, it charged out, turned and came at Conrad.
"Looking down the flaring nostrils of this enormous beast, which stopped only 5 feet from me with only a thin acacia branch between us, the 'connection' between humans, animals and the environment gained a whole new meaning for me," Conrad said.

Published: Wednesday, November 18, 2009