Office Of Public Affairs

U Launches Global Health Initiative

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Jul 8, 2010 1:00 AM

Trevor Muhler

Stephen C. Alder, Ph.D., chief of the U's public health division, spoke to more than 100 guests gathered at the Rosenblatt House to launch the Global Health Initiative.

Trevor Muhler

Utah venture capitalist Dinesh Patel and his wife, Kalpana. Patel and his brother have built rural health care facilities in their father's home village near Baroda, India. Patel believes the U's model of working with people at the local level to address problems, rather than trying to impose solutions on them, is the best way to improve health care.

Trevor Muhler

For years, infectious diseases expert DeVon C. Hale, M.D. (pictured above with his wife, Dianne), has been leading U of U medical humanitarian efforts throughout the world.

Trevor Muhler

U President Michael K. Young speaks to guests including Rick Haskins at a reception introducing the U's Global Health Initiative.

When Rick Haskins heard about the need for a school in a village in Ghana where children had to walk 10 miles to attend classes, he felt he had to help. “That was the best decision I ever made,” the network TV executive said at a May 5 reception introducing the University of Utah Global Health Initiative

Haskins, who supported collaborative efforts to advance health, economics, and education in Ghana, learned of the unique approach for health development that is central to the Global Health Initiative through two U School of Medicine faculty who’ve spearheaded efforts to teach and support medical, health and community development in Ghana: infectious diseases expert DeVon C. Hale, M.D., professor of internal medicine and assistant dean for international medical education, and Stephen C. Alder, Ph.D., associate professor of family and preventive medicine and chief of the Division of Public Health.

The Global Health Initiative provides an umbrella organization for globally oriented health and medical efforts. With the ultimate goal of creating a Global Health Institute, this organization is bringing greater coordination, common goals, and a focus on a few project sites, which the organizers believe will have a greater impact.  Rather than focus solely on providing medical care, Hale emphasizes that all of the programs will have an educational mission. “Teaching has a more lasting effect than just treating patients,” Hale said. He cited Ghana as an example in which the U program has helped train enough tissue pathologists that they no longer need help in that area.

When people in rural villages receive basic medical care and learn public health principles, the overall improvement in their lives is dramatic. But, Hale and Alder say, the benefits are not just a one-way street. Students who train in Ghana learn valuable lessons that they can apply to Utah health issues. “Whether it’s helping an African child learn how to prevent malaria or an obese teen in Utah learn how to manage weight, the models to address these problems are quite similar,” said Alder. 

The reception, held at the residence of U of U President Michael K. Young, attracted a fittingly international group of more than 100 people. Young told those gathered at the Rosenblatt House that the Global Health Initiative is deeply anchored in the University’s core values and mission to train students “who truly are international and capable of operating in the world. This is a program that builds capacity to help people improve health care,” said Young. “It also enhances our capacity to do research and train doctors, educators, economists, and others.” 

Utah venture capitalist Dinesh Patel, who was born in Zambia, knows firsthand the impact that programs such as the Global Health Initiative can have. He and his brother formed a model public-private partnership to build a 55-bed hospital and 12-bed clinic that has treated a half-million patients since 1996 in their father’s home village near Baroda, India. Four in 10 patients don’t pay for care, while those who do give nominal fees—5 cents to see a doctor and $26 for a Caesarean section, for example. “I’m extremely excited to be part of the Global Health Initiative program.” 

Haskins could not agree more. “I have found a place where I can make a difference.”

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