October 5, 2020

Building a UM global health community: Center for Global Health Equity launches

A new University-wide global health effort is now underway following the launch of the Center for Global Health Equity.

Faculty participate in the inaugural Center for Global Health Equity monthly seminar on the new center's launch and future plans for interdisciplinary collaboration.

After months of development, the center kicked off recently with the first in a series of planned monthly seminars designed to engage global health-minded faculty across U-M’s three campuses to help shape future plans and projects.

“One of the top priorities is an early focus on trying to build a University-wide global health community,” said the center’s Director, Joseph Kolars, MD. “We really want to make it easier for faculty to find each other.”

Funded by a gift from Tadataka and Leslie Yamada and matching University dollars, the center’s aim is to bring together faculty from across the U-M community, leveraging expertise from multiple disciplines to tackle global health challenges and positively impact individuals in low-income settings. A new website for the center went live ahead of the kick-off webinar on September 29.

Find details on all upcoming events here at the CGHE website.

Led by Kolars and the center’s Senior Advisor, John Ayanian, MD, MPP, the inaugural session drew nearly 130 participants from many disciplines, including Public Health, Medicine, Engineering, Environment and Sustainability, and more. The center aims to increase impact by bringing these and other disciplines together to bear on the complex issues driving health inequities.

“We’re looking for clever, transformative solutions in areas that may not be receiving needed attention but where there is a sense of urgency,” Ayanian told webinar attendees. “We’re hoping that most if not all of the projects supported by the center will engage faculty and maybe the students from at least three University of Michigan schools and units. We want to tap into those preexisting strengths and help you to take them in new directions.”

Initially, Center leaders plan to focus efforts on four thematic areas: Strengthening Systems for Health; Social & Environmental Determinants of Health; Technical Solutions; and Empowering Women and Communities. Upcoming Center seminars will focus on those topics individually, as respective Challenge Group leads detail the visioning work done to date in each area and recruit additional faculty to bring their ideas and insights.

Professor of Biostatistics Bhramar Mukherjee, PhD, will co-facilitate a Technical Solutions Challenge Group seminar an Oct. 29 with Associate Professor of Internal Medicine Akbar Waljee. Prospective projects under this theme would focus on how data science, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technology could play a role in limited-resource settings.

“Data science and global health are intrinsically related. There is tremendous interest in harnessing data and information for greater good,” she said. “We have a very strong community in data science at Michigan. What the Challenge Group has been trying to do is build a community of practice among those who have been interested in translating data science to global health.”

A Nov. 19 session will focus on the Empowering Woman and Communities Challenge Group. Around the world, women comprise about 70 percent of the total health workforce, but make up only 25 percent of health leadership positions, said Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences and Nutritional Sciences Laura Rozek, PhD, who will help facilitate the session.

“Empowering women is an essential aspect to achieving global health equity. Our theme aims help women become change agents for better health for themselves, their families and their communities,” Rozek said.

Specific projects and international partners have yet to be defined, but the values defined by center leaders call for projects that have a clear “line of sight” to the envisioned societal impact.

“For global health, a lot of times people can’t see the connection between the academic work and how people are going to live differently,” said Kolars. “Too often, when we talk about impact, it’s impact on ourselves. Of course we want to write papers and get grants, but we want to show a connection to how our efforts are impacting lives and empowering people who haven’t had the equity and advantages that so many of us have had here.”