By: Parminder S. Suchdev, MD MPH FAAP
We are in the midst of the world’s worst pandemic in a century. The arrival of COVID-19 has not only affected the lives and livelihoods of millions, but it has also launched massive social movements for racial and economic justice. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” There is no better time to be working in global health, defined as a discipline that prioritizes equity in health care and stresses the commonality of health issues that require collective, interdisciplinary action within and across national borders.(1) But in the post-pandemic world, we must amplify investments in global health that prioritize racial, gender, and health equity; reciprocal and bidirectional partnerships; evidence-based decision making; and clear, consistent, and effective health communication.
The Emory Global Health Institute (EGHI) is at the forefront of tackling these timely global health issues. Founded in 2006, EGHI is the focal point for global health at Emory University, advancing health impact through multidisciplinary research, scholarship, training and service. Key principles that guide our work include innovation, equity, and commitment to multidisciplinary and results-based programs. EGHI has brought $343 million in new grants to Emory University, and more than 2,000 students and faculty from 57 departments and nine schools have participated in our programs.
Like most organizations, we had to pivot our operations and signature programs in response to COVID-19 in order to make lemonade out of the lemons that the pandemic handed us. For example, our signature student program, the International Emory Global Health Case Competition brings together multidisciplinary student teams from international and US-based universities to develop solutions to important and timely global health challenges. In March 2020, teams addressed a hypothetical, but highly plausible, global measles outbreak in the year 2030. Because of COVID-19, we had to quickly convert the competition to a virtual format, something we had never done before. Due to the amazing and resilient participating student teams as well as our faculty, staff, and expert judges, the virtual case competition was a tremendous success. In 2021, we will host our second virtual case competition and expand the field of teams from 30 to 60, with far more representation from international universities including many located in low-and-middle-income countries. Not only do winning teams receive cash prizes, participants have noted that participation in our global health case competition was the single most influential component of their global health education.
In addition to converting our 2020 international global health case competition to a virtual program, we also worked with multidisciplinary faculty and student teams to transform their 2020 summer Field Scholars Awards projects into virtual projects. Two of these teams abandoned their original projects and developed new projects focused on COVID-19. This year we also introduced several new programs including a virtual hackathon in partnership with Georgia Tech that required student teams to develop technology-based products to address challenges presented by the pandemic, a COVID-19 children’s eBook competition, and a virtual global health course for interprofessional students from Emory College, School of Medicine, and Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.
EGHI has also been actively engaged in communicating about the pandemic and the federal and state responses to it. Our founding Director and Emory University’s Vice President for Global Health, Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, has joined other former CDC Directors in criticizing the U.S. COVID-19 response and the politicization of a science-based approach to public health. Dr. Koplan has called for clear and direct communications about the pandemic and mitigation strategies from public health leaders in his numerous media appearances with ABC News, NPR, the Washington Post, CNN and others.
A final example of our amplified efforts to tackle important global health issues is EGHI’s five-part Decolonizing Global Health Series that will cover topics focused on the history of colonialism and the influence of religion, capitalism, and politics on the evolution and practice of global health. Our plan is to convert our discussions on these important topics into actions that will contribute to the decolonization of all spaces of global health practice, including research, education, and healthcare delivery. For example, the Child Health Mortality Prevention Surveillance (CHAMPS) program, a large study to identify causes of childhood mortality, has adopted a governance structure that aims to shift decision-making and power to the surveillance sites located in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Because global health has deep colonial roots, a clear understanding of history and the social and political determinants of health is needed to both remediate past injustices and define a bold vision for the future.(2)
We invite the global health community to join EGHI’s efforts to realign investments in global health that prioritize equitable partnerships, the social determinants of health, and the dismantling of structural inequities. Atlanta truly is the global health capital of the world, and the Georgia Global Health Alliance’s work of bringing together committed academic, non‐profit, business, and government organizations offers a platform for global health solidarity that will ensure a better post-pandemic world.
1. Koplan JP, Bond TC, Merson MH, et al. Towards a common definition of global health. The Lancet; 373(9679): 1993-5.
2. Abimbola S, Pai M. Will global health survive its decolonisation? The Lancet 2020; 396(10263): 1627-8.