Atlanta: A Nexus for Public Health Initiatives

Local public health expertise plays an important role in food and water initiatives globally, which was readily apparent at a May 21 summit on global health issues. 

On the one hand, private organizations like the Carter Center and CARE USA, an Atlanta-based humanitarian organization, provide on-the-ground implementation of public health research and technologies, said Christine Moe the director of Emory University’s Center for Global Safe Water.

For example, the Carter Center has worked to reduce Guinea worm infection in Sub-Saharan Africa for more than 26 years in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control, the Gates Foundation and others, bringing down reported cases of the parasitic infection spread by contaminated water by over 3.5 million a year to fewer than 1,100 cases in 2011.

On the other hand, she says partnerships between local universities and philanthropic corporations provide research necessary to drive breakthroughs in the field of public health, which influences global health policies by governments and non-governmental organizations.

“There’s some groups that are more the implementers or the facilitators of implementation, like CARE or the Carter Center,” Dr. Moe said. “And then there’s these two research universities, great research universities: Emory and Georgia Tech.”

And the collaboration between these schools and other organizations has provided a positive effect on the application of public health research and technology, Dr. Moe said.

Georgia State University also seeks to become a critical partner in these collaborative efforts with the expansion of its own Institute of Public Health, which will soon become the university’s School of Public Health with founding dean Michael Erickson.

But for universities like Georgia State to be most effective on global health issues, they must be very clear on their objectives and responsibilities with their partners, according to Georgia State University President Mark Becker.

A former dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Becker was a panelist at the recent global health leadership summit, which was held by the World Affairs Council of Atlanta in collaboration with CARE and the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

He said that for these partnerships to work, universities must also recognize their role as educational and research institutions and not as primary service providers or funders.

“From a university perspective, if we’re to have a role in any of this, it’s always going to be through collaborative partnerships,” he said.

For example, Christine Stauber, an environmental microbiologist at Georgia State, has worked with the World Bank and the University of North Carolina on ways developing countries can economically purify household water with limited resources.

The challenge for universities, according to Dr. Becker, is now to create educational atmospheres that foster the development of “life-changing or defining experiences” for students through internships, study abroad opportunities and hands-on research.

“There’s so much more than you can get out of your university experience than just going to class and getting your degree,” he said.

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This story first appeared on GlobalAtlanta.com in May, 2012.

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