U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano (from left), Harvard Provost Steven Hyman, and Novartis senior director Phil Dormitzer shared the stage as panelists at a global health policy forum. Hyman noted that New England is well placed to play a key role in global health, with collaborations already established among universities, hospitals, and businesses.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer


HIV, malaria, women, and children

4 min read

Panel focuses on New England’s contributions, role in global health

A new report on global health policy calls for the United States to maintain its commitment to fight HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis and to double the funds committed to maternal and child health, to $2 billion a year.

The report, unveiled at a Boston University (BU) conference co-sponsored by BU, Harvard, and the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies on Monday (April 26), also recommends strengthening efforts at disease prevention, setting national global health priorities for the next 15 years, and bolstering collaboration and support of international institutions that can help in the effort, such as the World Health Organization, the World Bank, UNICEF, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Harvard Provost Steven Hyman, who spoke at one of the event’s three panels, said it’s important that, as the academic field of global health emerges, it not be bound in a traditional academic silo. Though the creation of academic disciplines has been an important way to focus efforts in some fields, Hyman said a more problem-centered approach that draws solutions from many fields is more appropriate for global health.

Hyman said New England is well placed to play a key role in global health, with collaborations already established among universities, hospitals, and businesses.

BU President Robert Brown said that student interest in global health is “profoundly” greater now than it was a decade ago and that the international flavor of the region’s universities — both with many students from abroad coming here and students studying abroad — will give the area an advantage as global health increases in importance.

The evidence that more students are interested in global health today is reflected on Harvard’s campuses, Hyman said, in courses that are so packed that students have to be admitted by lottery. When they graduate, though, he cautioned, those students will need careers that can harness their enthusiasm and apply it toward the greater good.

“The real question is are we going to create the kinds of … opportunities that allow this wonderful burst of idealism to be wedded to a career path that allows a student to make a career in global health,” Hyman said.

Novartis senior director Phil Dormitzer, who spoke on the panel featuring Hyman and Brown — and which also featured U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and Genzyme Senior Vice President James Geraghty —  said that New England’s concentration of research institutions attracted Genzyme’s operations a few years ago from the San Francisco Bay area. Still, he said, one of the biggest challenges in global health is not necessarily marshalling the brain power, clinical expertise, and capital to conceive, test, and bring products to market. To be usable in the developing world, where the need is greatest, vaccines and critical drugs need to be made very inexpensively, something that is best done in other parts of the world.

New England, Capuano said, has long outgrown its textile mill industrial roots and specializes in well-paying, knowledge-based industry. Today the dominant industry is in the biosciences, which Capuano said will likely move elsewhere as it matures, as production practices become refined and as manufacturing costs become more and more important. By then, Capuano said, the region’s powerful combination of knowledge-based resources will likely be on to the next big thing, whatever that may be.

“We do intellectual capital. We build it in the university, we test it in the hospitals, we commercialize it in our businesses,” Capuano said.

Outside of New England, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) student Amy Bei, participating on a panel of future global health leaders, said it is critical that capacity be built in the developing nations themselves. Bei, who worked in Tanzania on malaria, said she has a passion to help train local scientists.