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February 22, 2018

Georgetown Faculty Reflect on First Year of the Global Health Initiative

More than 50 faculty members across Georgetown’s campuses gathered at the second annual Faculty Forum of the Georgetown University Global Health Initiative (GHI) on February 7, 2018. They shared lessons from their research, discussed academic programs in global health, and offered recommendations for strengthening Georgetown’s contributions to improving health outcomes in communities across the world.

Georgetown Faculty Reflect on First Year of the Global Health Initiative

Poverty and Disease

The first panel, moderated by John Kraemer, associate professor in the Department of Health Systems Administration, focused on global health research across Georgetown. Emily Mendenhall, assistant professor of global health in the Science, Technology, and International Affairs Program, opened the discussion by offering an anthropological perspective on diseases that cluster, known as “syndemics,” in economically and socially vulnerable populations.

“The theory of syndemics allows us to think from a critical perspective about how poverty makes you sick,” Mendenhall explained.

Charles Holmes, faculty co-director of the new Center for Global Health and Quality (GHQ) at the Medical Center, discussed his research experience in Zambia, as well as the mission of GHQ to empower national and local leaders with the data and analytic support they need to build and own sustainable health systems in low- and middle-income countries.

“It sounds like a very broad and all-encompassing vision, and in fact it is,” Holmes said. “I think it’s drawn from our history in global health and a feeling that we need to support greater national and subnational leadership in countries hardest hit by disease.”

Rebecca Katz, co-director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security (GHSS), provided an overview of her team’s work in supporting public health leaders in resource-poor settings with the tools they need to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks. Katz emphasized that the field of global health security is evolving rapidly.

Shweta Bansal, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, closed the morning panel with a review of her research that was recently funded by the National Institutes of Health. She is using complex computer modeling to examine the role of social factors like income, education, and religious affiliation as they relate to vaccine hesitancy in the re-emergence of childhood diseases.

“Our goal is to develop and use tools from informatics to ultimately be able to help guide public health issues, both policy and practice,” Bansal said.

Goals and New Horizons

Following the morning panel, Edward Healton, executive vice president for health sciences and executive dean of the School of Medicine, explained that global health is a key focus area of the Medical Center, and that the initiative serves as a vital platform for bridging colleagues across the university community and advancing interdisciplinary solutions to global health challenges.

“Global health is one of the Medical Center’s principal priorities,” Healton said. “We are focused on expanding our global health capacity by supporting our current faculty and bringing new programs and centers into our global health family.”

John Monahan, senior advisor to the president for global health, initiated a lunchtime discussion about the goals for the year-old GHI. He reviewed progress that Georgetown has made in meeting the goals that were set for the initiative over the past year, including strengthening the university-wide community of global health scholars, supporting research, and engaging students. At the forum, Monahan invited the faculty to develop their own recommendations and ideas for future directions of the GHI.

The Faculty Forum closed with a panel that featured some of the spring 2017 GHI collaborative grant recipients. Victoria Jennings, director and principal investigator of the Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH), introduced panelists Nana Dagadu, senior research officer at IRH; Nima Sheth, medical director of the Georgetown Psychiatric Partial Hospitalization Program; and Toby Long, director of the Graduate Certificate Program in Early Intervention and training director of the Center for Child and Human Development.

Dagadu, Sheth, and Long received funding to support research workshops on preventing gender violence in Ghana, assessing the mental health of refugees, and fostering healthier developmental growth in Syrian refugee children, respectively. Each spoke about the work they and their teams have accomplished with the seed grants, as well as next steps.

Embodying Georgetown’s Values

“The Global Health Initiative is a university priority, and it extends beyond our excellent work at the Medical Center,” said Thomas Banchoff, vice president for global engagement.

The range and scope of Georgetown’s nine schools, as well as its Washington, D.C. location, allows for true diversity in disciplinary perspective and approach to various global problems, Banchoff explained, making Georgetown uniquely equipped for tackling global health issues.

The initiative also builds on Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit identity and commitment to social justice.

“The Jesuits have always had a global horizon, and a strong commitment to common good,” said Banchoff. “This really gives us the opportunity to lead efforts to link these global health issues to moral and ethical issues.”