Skip to Global Health Institute Full Site Menu Skip to main content
Global Health Forum

Global Health Forum

January 29, 2020

Preparing for the Unpredictable: A Discussion with Dr. Katz on her Career in Global Health Security Blog Post

By Meera Parikh

On Tuesday, the Conversations in Global Health class hosted Dr. Rebecca Katz, professor and the Director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University. While she currently works on the intersection between global health, technology, and security, she spent her undergraduate years studying political science and economics at Swarthmore University. However, after developing an infection while volunteering in India, Katz found herself studying Brucella melitensis instead. “When you have a rare infection, you have to become your own expert,” Dr. Katz cited as her sudden interest in the bacteria. As she simultaneously pursued a Masters in Public Health at Yale University in Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Dr. Katz personally experienced disease at the patient level. This was one of many seemingly coincidental events in her career path. 

As she researched more about Brucella, she found a lot of literature about bioweapons—this was because Brucella was a possible bioterrorism agent in the 1950s. She began thinking about the intersection between disease and technology, which lead her to develop a thesis proposal about public health and national security. At the time, most Ph.D. programs were not interested in her research, however she was finally offered a spot at Princeton University. And then another coincidence occurred. On September 10, 2001, Dr. Katz turned in her thesis on public health security, one day before America’s security faced a major threat. Suddenly, the ideas she presented in her paper became issues of national concern. In 2004, Dr. Katz began consulting for the Department of State, while concurrently conducting global health security research at the George Washington University. Four years ago, she moved her research team to Georgetown University, where she currently works.

While listening to Dr. Katz’s career path, I began to wonder, does the job that I will have in five or ten years exist yet? How do I plan for the future, when so many people stumble into their careers through a combination of chance and life experience? In the fleeting moment that I considered these ideas, the conversation shifted to 2019-nCoV, the novel Coronavirus. 

In response to the question “Are we better prepared to deal with pandemics?” Dr. Katz offered a simultaneously optimistic and ominous response: “Yes, but not enough.” She explained that while we have improved infrastructure and adherence to the International Health Regulations, it is impossible to keep up with nature. China has revised their disease surveillance systems and been more transparent about the 2019-nCoV than they were with SARS, but there are still critical questions about the pathogen that are unanswered. The scary, yet fascinating thing about the outbreak is that it is both an issue of the present and the future, and we need to keep both in mind as we develop interventions. After the WHO failed to declare the 2019 Ebola outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) in time, I thought that they would not do the same with this outbreak. But after hearing Dr. Katz elaborate on the political, social, and economic implications of declaring a PHEIC, I realized how nuanced the pandemic response is. I see the same ideas echoed in her recommendations for Global Health Diplomacy in which public health and policy experts must work together to determine the best interventions. Global health issues have no borders, so it takes an international, interdisciplinary team to solve them. Despite all the chaos and fear that pandemics cause, there are researchers, like Dr. Katz, who do their best to prepare for them. And while my career probably won’t follow a linear trajectory, I too can prepare for the unpredictable.

Meera Parikh (NHS ‘22) is a second-year undergraduate student studying Global Health.

January 21, 2020

Sharing Insights and Experience: A Conversation with Senior Policy Advisor Keifer Buckingham Blog Post

By Rachel Williamson

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, the Conversations in Global Health lecture series had the pleasure of talking with Keifer Buckingham, Senior Policy Advisor for International Public Health at Open Society Foundations. Buckingham shared her post-grad trajectory and provided valuable insights and experiences into the fields of global health, reproductive rights and advocacy. Over the course of the evening, Keifer spoke of the roads that lead her to where she is, domestic public health and advocacy work, and the importance of collaboration and trust while working on Capitol Hill for Congresswoman Lee.

Towards the end of the evening, the conversation came to Universal Health Coverage (UHC), a landmark goal of global health and development. As a Global Health Senior here at Georgetown, we have touched upon and discussed this goal of the United Nations in many of our classes. While the question originally concerned how reproductive health can be a comprehensive component of UHC, especially in the Trump-era, Buckingham stepped the question back. The global health professional was up-front about the lofty-nature of this goal, as even the United States is far away from having UHC. Instead, Buckingham focused on what needs to happen in order to put the systems in place that will allow UHC to become a reality in the long term; how the conversations of global health aid and assistance in the US need to shift toward helping countries get to a place where they will eventually be ready for UHC.

Starting with a bit of history, she touched upon the siloed nature of much global health assistance. Key programs that have achieved enormous success, such as PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, focus on select diseases. As a result, systems are weak and services unintegrated. Buckingham explained, “right now, a mother can go into a clinic and get effective HIV medication, but she cannot get basic family planning services.” She was clear that the current appropriations system is not set up to think in the way of breaking down the silos in which global health aid and development has operated for decades. Appropriators are much more inclined to do the quantitative work of providing x number of bed nets or vaccines, as opposed to the less tangible work of health system strengthening - the exact activity that is necessary if the world is going to get close to achieving UHC for all. The path forward now seems a bit more clear, the pressing work is to convince the decision makers to think differently about aid and how strengthening systems for health is most effective path forward if the world is to get closer to actualizing UHC for all. 

Rachel Williamson (NHS ’20) is an undergraduate student studying global health. She is also an intern at the Global Digital Health Network.