Office Of Public Affairs

Making a Global Difference

Oct 2, 2007 6:00 PM

DeVon C. Hale, M.D., assistant dean of international medical education for the school of medicine, has literally traveled the world, deeply committed to studying and improving global health care.

In 2002, he co-founded a program, now called the University of Utah Global Health Alliance (UUGHA), to cultivate and coordinate medical humanitarian initiatives. Last year, more than 150 U students and faculty members participated in programs in Ghana, Kenya, Peru, Ecuador, Thailand, and China.

Over the years, Hale has learned many important lessons, which have influenced the mission of UUGHA. "Our job is not to go and take care of patients; our job is to teach," says Hale. "We won't see patients unless we are working with someone from the host country, trying to raise the level of care they can administer through training." Hale has also realized that even the best intentions can sometimes have harmful results, and is very careful not to interfere with a country's health-care system. "We've learned to first attract people who are committed to the mission before introducing money or medical supplies," says Hale.

Long-term success requires collaboration and consideration of the bigger picture. "What we've discovered is that just treating the disease doesn't insure that they will stay healthy," says Hale. For example, you can treat Malaria, but without a bednet, it's almost certain a person will contract it again. Hale points to broader efforts like those of Scott Larsen, a medical student who began a project to eliminate schistosomiasis from a village in Ghana, and ended up organizing a project to clear up the brush around the pond where the parasite festers.

"We're still beginners compared to places like Johns Hopkins," says Hale. Nevertheless, UUGHA programs continue to attract very committed people.

By the numbers: University of Utah Global Health Alliance

In 2006, nearly 200 students and faculty members participated in international programs.

- UUGHA's program in Ghana involves faculty and residents from 11 different departments, medical students, and volunteers from the schools of medicine, public health, physical therapy, pharmacy, social work, and nursing.

- Almost all faculty members personally fund their travel expenses, which added up to $250,000 last year.

- Private donations subsidize the travel expenses for one-third of students.

- One-third of incoming medical students are interested in doing international work.

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