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January 18, 2006

UW to establish Department of Global Health with $20 million Gates Foundation grant

The University of Washington School of Medicine and the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine will establish a jointly-operated Department of Global Health, pending approval at the January meeting of the UW Board of Regents. A $20 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help fund this interdisciplinary program. The department is one of a small number of programs in the country jointly operated by a school of medicine and a school of public health and community medicine.

The Department of Global Health will serve as a focal point for the University’s programs to identify health problems and health inequities in underserved populations, and to develop and implement innovative interventions that can dramatically reduce the burden associated with disease and improve health for all populations. Educational curricula will be designed to create a new paradigm in global health studies, and the department will promote and support interdisciplinary research programs that address global health disparities. The department will provide opportunities to translate educational and research programs into concrete methods to improve the health of underserved populations through service activities in developing countries.

“The UW’s new Department of Global Health has the potential to become one of the most important programs in the world,” said UW President Mark Emmert. “The University of Washington has extensive experience in creating new interdisciplinary research and training programs that quickly move to the forefront in their respective fields. This will be one of those.”

UW Provost Phyllis Wise noted the existing robust international presence of the Schools of Medicine and Public Health in more than 75 formal partnerships or affiliations in developing countries. The new department is positioned to provide leadership in training the researchers and health professionals of tomorrow while identifying ways to eradicate, prevent, and limit diseases that present a global threat.

“The Gates Foundation grant recognizes and reaffirms the important research that is already being conducted here in Seattle,” said Wise.

Many schools and colleges at the University of Washington will be contributing expertise to this new department.

A 15-member advisory committee chaired by F. Bruder Stapleton, UW professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics, conducted an exhaustive internal and external review before supporting the creation of the Department of Global Health. It was determined that a jointly administered department would provide a broader interdisciplinary infrastructure and would more appropriately meet educational, research and service needs than a department organized by a single school.

“This is a new paradigm,” said Paul G. Ramsey, dean of the School of Medicine, “that will generate new approaches to improving the world’s health by integrating faculty with diverse backgrounds, expertise and perspectives. We are excited about this extraordinary opportunity and grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its $20 million commitment to launch the new department.”

Patricia W. Wahl, PhD, dean of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, concurred. “The importance of the health of the world’s population has gained broad recognition after recent global social, political and environmental crises,” said Wahl. ” I am looking forward to the opportunity this new department will provide to work with colleagues across the UW campus and Seattle community to find innovative ways to address global health challenges.”

Start-up and annual funding requirements will be met through a combination of funds from UW and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Research programs will focus on infectious diseases; injury control; nutrition; reproductive, maternal and child health; and the delivery of health care systems. There will be a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary research, including operational research and behavioral interventional strategies that recognize the importance of social, legal, economic and policy approaches to sustainable health improvements. Departmental service programs will emphasize professional engagement in public health policy and practice and medical care. It is estimated that the department could attract as much as $100 million in grants and contracts once it is fully operational.

“In addition to developing new initiatives, the Department of Global Health will strengthen existing research programs, such as laboratory-based research on the pathogenesis and prevention of ‘global diseases,’” said Ramsey. “These global diseases include malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis C and other devastating diseases. The Seattle Vaccine and Immunization Research Center, a collaboration between the UW and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, will be included within the Department of Global Health and will work to develop and test vaccines for infectious diseases and other diseases like cancer that devastate developing countries.”

Combining the disciplines of medicine and public health in one department will expose faculty and students to the broad spectrum of disciplines needed to address global health problems. A unique M.D./M.P.H. (Master of Public Health) degree, developed by integrating these disciplines in the educational process, is planned and will define a global health curriculum that will serve as a model for educational institutions in the United States and abroad, said Wahl. A significant initiative will be to develop new educational and training programs to prepare emerging leaders in developing countries.