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Vol. LXII, No. 16
August 6, 2010

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New NIH Global Health Course Enlightens Students

Interest in global health across campuses nationwide is surging and NIH is no exception. This past semester marked the debut of Introduction to Global Health, a new course available through the FAES Graduate School. The course was the brainchild of Dr. Linda Kupfer from the Fogarty International Center, who designed it with the intention of raising awareness of underappreciated topics in global health while also dispelling common myths.

Much of the focus of the curricula was on low- and middle-income countries; however, the concept that global health concerns the health of people worldwide was emphasized. The diseases having the greatest impact on health were also discussed. Of those, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are frequently viewed as being a profound cause of death and illness, especially in the developing world. The class was also introduced to the unexpected burden of disease from non-communicable conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, which are steadily having a greater impact on health in the developing world.

According to student Susan Ivey, “My understanding of global health before I started was confined to infectious diseases that afflict people in the developing world; the class helped round out that vision to encompass health issues affecting the entire global community—developed and developing— such as chronic diseases, nutrition and traffic safety.”

Additionally, as pointed out by lecturer Dr. Peter Hotez of George Washington University, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), including parasites and worms, have an alarming impact on health for up to a billion of the world’s poorest people. While not always fatal, these infections are debilitating to individuals and devastating for communities. According to Hotez, treating or preventing NTDs is a highly cost-effective intervention that can often be achieved with a single pill, sometimes for less than 10 cents per tablet.

The powerful impact of nutrition on health, whether through malnutrition or obesity, surprised many in the class. Dr. Meera Shekar of the World Bank described how nutrition can be a critical determinant underscoring one’s ability to work and learn productively, alerting the class to the special role of nutrition for the very young. Poor nutrition in babies up to 24 months of age has major and irreversible effects on growth and cognitive development. Designing interventions targeting these age groups can have a major impact that is felt over a lifetime.

Another important aspect of the course was an emphasis on the idea that solving global health issues cannot be achieved without addressing underlying problems such as poverty and inadequate health systems. Thus, a significant component of the course was devoted to how these challenges are being addressed through programmatic or policy means. Fogarty’s mission of building research capacity in the developing world was showcased, while other NIH programs were also discussed, such as the NHLBI Global Health Initiative and the NCI initiative in global health training, both of which aim to combat chronic diseases in developing countries.

For many of the students who began the course with the belief that global health challenges are too complex to be solved, their doubts had disappeared by the end. “The course presented a large range of global health issues, each of which is incredibly complex in its own right,” said student Fanette Fontaine. “However, the course taught me that through interdisciplinary teams of researchers, physicians, policy makers and other key players these challenges can be tackled despite their complexity.”

Another unexpected outcome was the large number of students who expressed an interest in pursuing a career in global health. “Taking the course did motivate me to pursue a career in global health; for instance the research done in sub-Saharan Africa can be applicable to any person living with the same disease in the U.S. or other countries,” said student Kathrina Quinn. “The world, as a whole, can benefit both medically and economically from global health research.”

Due to popular demand, Introduction to Global Health will be offered again in 2011. For more information about the course, visit NIHRecord Icon

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