Light & Verity

New institute will think globally about health

An interdisciplinary approach to health issues that seep beyond national borders.

CIA World Factbook/Wikimedia Commons

CIA World Factbook/Wikimedia Commons

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Catherine Panter-Brick is a textbook example of a global health scholar. A Yale anthropology professor, she also holds appointments at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and the School of Public Health. Her research into mental health, violence, and resilience spans continents. Last month, she published a study on the biological benefits of mental health programs in refugee camps: she had found that a specific psychosocial intervention reduced the levels of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress) in Syrian teenagers by a third.

So for Panter-Brick, the announcement in December that Yale will launch a new institute for global health was more than welcome. “I am excited with a capital ‘E,’” she says.

Led by Yale’s schools of nursing, medicine, and public health, the institute will help coordinate and facilitate research and teaching in global health. It will not be a degree-granting school (although the public health school does offer a concentration in global health), but rather will serve as a resource for students and faculty. A search is currently under way for a faculty director.

Global health focuses on issues that seep beyond national borders and require a complex, interdisciplinary response. Sometimes that response extends beyond the health sciences: School of Nursing dean Ann Kurth ’90MSN, a global health expert who is helping to lead the new institute, says they’re reaching out to faculty across the university, especially in the School of Forestry, the Law School, and the School of Management.

“We’re framing this as the coalition of the willing,” says Kurth. “We’ll provide infrastructural support, strategic communication, and the ability to mentor faculty in a global health career.”

And at Yale, many are willing.

“The field of global health is changing,” Panter-Brick says. “We’re moving into a new century with different constraints and opportunities.” By catalyzing the intellectual power of the university, Panter-Brick believes, Yale will be in a position to “shape global health strategy.”

Kurth thinks Yale is in a prime position to become a leader in the field, not only because of its strong health sciences, but also because of its School of Forestry. Like most experts in the field, she believes that climate change will profoundly affect the next century of global health. “We’re going to be seeing increasing extreme weather events, rising sea levels, impact on urban planning and population displacement, food security, air quality,” says Kurth. “These issues all tie together, and will be the way in which the Yale Institute of Global Health will make a unique contribution.”

A slew of new global health institutes have appeared over the past decade. Vanderbilt, the University of Wisconsin, Johns Hopkins, Mt. Sinai, and Duke all started their institutes between 2005 and 2007. Since then, many universities have rushed to catch up.

Yale’s institute is starting relatively small, with a projected budget of about $2.5 million for the first three years. Kurth says that, at least initially, the primary focus of the institute will be “research and capacity-building work.”

Kurth estimates there are at least 120 faculty across the university’s schools and departments doing global health–related work, some of them aided by funding from about 75 different grants. But none of them is above $5 million a year. With the additional support of the new institute, she says, Yale projects can start landing grants double or even ten times that amount. But “it’s not just about getting ‘x’ amount of money,” she says. “It’s about what kind of scale we could get to.”

For many at Yale, the announcement of the new institute was both overdue and a source of relief. When global health researcher Elizabeth Bradley ’96PhD left the university last year to become president of Vassar College, the university’s eight-year-old Global Health Leadership Institute was left without a director and was discontinued, leaving students and faculty who were interested in global health unsure what to expect next. Now they finally have an answer. Or, at least, the start of one.

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