“It’s an exciting time to be involved in global health research,” said Ambassador Mark R. Dybul, addressing NIAID’s fellows during a retreat on global health research held recently. Organized by a committee of institute fellows and the Office of Training and Diversity, the retreat featured panel discussions about the various facets of implementing and running global health research programs.
Some fellows were astounded to learn of the many and wide-ranging NIAID research projects under way across the globe to better understand such diseases as malaria, TB and HIV. Said one during the morning session, “How can I learn more about these programs and get involved?”
A key theme emerged early in the day. Contrary to much of what we know about biomedical research training, global health research involves a broad and interdisciplinary approach, a notion that surprised many postdocs whose research is generally more narrowly focused. More than biological in nature, global health problems are influenced by cultural, economic and political forces.
No one articulated that theme better than Dybul. As former U.S. global AIDS coordinator under the George W. Bush administration and co-director of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Dybul has seen the evolution of global health research first hand. Offering a frank historical perspective, he noted the lack of interest early on among policymakers and others to put resources into improving global health.
The paradigm shift toward multidisciplinary solutions eventually led to some of the greatest public health successes in global health in the last decade, largely driven by science. As a result of NIAID and other institute research advances, “we can see the end of HIV, malaria, maternal death and preventable child death,” Dybul said.
Panelists also emphasized the importance of looking broadly and working cooperatively. Dr. Clifton E. Barry III, who works on drug development for TB in the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, emphasized that it is more than just scientific issues that inform research. Global health researchers, he says, must understand the politics of disease at every level and ask, “What do we focus on in the lab that can make a scalable difference?” The work has to be done cooperatively not just to shed light on public health problems, but also to build research capacity in host countries.
The day ended with a review of NIAID’s international research and an introduction to NIAID’s Office of Global Research by its senior international scientific advisor, Dr. Karl Western. He explained the office’s role in establishing diplomatic relationships with several countries and supporting and expanding the institute’s international activities.—Marci Karth Better