UW News

September 14, 2009

Universities report doubling of students enrolled in global health programs in last three years

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

BETHESDA, MD. — The number of students enrolled in global health programs in universities across the United States and Canada doubled in just three years due to a surging interest in careers to address health disparities and prevent the spread of disease in developing countries, according to a survey released today by the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH).

The survey findings reflect an unprecedented increase in student interest in global health education that is imposing hefty demands on universities to not only provide classes but also hands-on experiences in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.

The results of the survey, the first to gauge the state of academic global health education, will be presented at the Consortium’s first annual meeting to be held at the National Institutes of Health, drawing 250 representatives from 58 universities. Several top U.S. health officials are scheduled to attend the meeting along with five university presidents, from Boston University, Duke University, Emory University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Washington in Seattle.

Thirty-seven universities participated in the survey, which was conducted in the past several months. Here are highlights:

  • The number of undergraduate students enrolled in global health grew from 1,286 to 2,687 between 2006-2009;
  • The number of graduate students enrolled has more than doubled from 949 in 2006 to 2,010 this year;
  • And the number of student organizations focused on global health also has surged; the 37 university programs listed 105 active student organizations, an average of almost three per campus.

The survey also found that universities have rapidly established training and education programs around the world. The 37 universities are involved in a combined 302 programs that have been in place for at least one year in 97 countries.

“You cannot overstate the energy and enthusiasm on university campuses today with students who want to work on global health issues,” said University of Washington President Mark A. Emmert. “The commitment of our students to help bring higher quality and greater access to health care to developing countries is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever witnessed.”

James W. Wagner, President of Emory University in Atlanta, said that most incoming freshmen in universities and colleges around the country were born in 1990 or 1991, arriving on campus with an appreciation of the global community they live in. “The news items that stick in their heads are almost all global — they remember 9/11, and realize that political boundaries don’t stop terrorism. They remember SARS, the West Nile virus, and now swine flu — so they know that political boundaries don’t stop disease. They have grown up as global citizens demonstrably more so than prior generations.”

Laura Ferraro, of Carlisle, Mass., a senior at Duke University, helped develop a survey on women’s health issues for a university project in Leogane, Haiti, in conjunction with Family Health Ministries. She said the experience in Haiti was difficult but that it had changed her.

“I realize more and more that I want to do global health work,” said Ferraro, who is applying to medical schools. “I just feel there is such a need, and I’d rather be helping than not.”

“We must think of health education in a different way,” said Tachi Yamada, president of the Global Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We now live in a global community — global health is local health. We need more research, more instruction, and more ideas on how to tackle some of the most difficult challenges in global health.”

This week’s meeting, to be held today and Tuesday at the NIH Natcher Center, will focus on how universities can pool together their research, education, policy and workforce training talents to bring new energy and approaches to narrow health disparities in low- and middle-income countries.

The effort to push more global health education and training comes amid a renewed focus on global health at the NIH. Incoming Director Dr. Francis S. Collins last month singled out global health as one of five areas he will focus on during his tenure, acknowledging the “enthusiasm in ratcheting up” research and training.

Collins will speak at the conference as will Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, special advisor on health policy, Office of Management and Budget; and Ambassador Eric Goosby, MD, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. In addition to Drs. Emmert and Wagner, three other presidents will speak at the meeting: Dr. Robert A. Brown of Boston University; Dr. Richard H. Brodhead of Duke University; and Ronald J. Daniels of Johns Hopkins University.

“From every part of the nation, to every part of the developing world, our universities are working every day to reduce the disparities in health,” said Dr. Brown of Boston University.

Added Dr. Brodhead of Duke: “Global health is at the intersection of so many fields. Universities are uniquely situated to take the knowledge we create and put it in service to address the challenges that affect large parts of the world.”

Johns Hopkins’ Daniels said he hoped CUGH would play a strong advocacy role on behalf of universities’ global health programs. “Additional funding streams are necessary to fully equip our students with the classroom education and field experiences necessary for them to excel as global health professionals,” he said.

Eight university presidents — from BU, Duke, Emory, Johns Hopkins, University of Washington, McGill University, Stanford University, and the University of California — also released a joint statement urging the United States to use the resources of universities to respond to global health needs and support a new generation of global health workers. “Virtually the entire range of university expertise is now engaged in addressing the global disparities in health and development,” the statement reads.

Dr. Haile Debas, Executive Director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Global Health Sciences program, said universities were especially strong at teaching others to help build capacity in places with little expertise. “We need to build the capacity of the developing world. That’s what universities can do better than anyone else,” he said.

Following the meeting, CUGH representatives will participate in a Congressional briefing on Sept. 16, from 9 a.m.- 10:15 a.m. in Room B338 at the Rayburn House Office Building. The briefing is sponsored by the CSIS Global Health Policy Center and the Congressional Global Health Caucus. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), chair of the Congressional Global Health Caucus, will open the meeting.

For more information on CUGH and the September 14-15 meeting, visit the web site at http://www.cugh.org 

The Presidents statement can be found at: http://www.cugh.org/sites/default/files/presidents-statement.pdf