Engaging in a world without borders

The importance of global health

Sten H. Vermund, M.D., Ph.D.
Amos Christie Chair and Professor, Department of Pediatrics
Director, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Institute for Global Health
Published: July, 2006

Sten H. Vermund, M.D., Ph.D.
Photo by Anne Rayner
Global health is a vibrant component of today’s Vanderbilt. It is evident in the growing number of research partnerships with other nations that, for example, are providing AIDS treatment in Haiti, improving the care of premature babies in Colombia, and screening for diabetic retinopathy in remote areas of Peru and Bolivia.

It was evident in last year’s creation of a new Institute for Global Health by medical school Dean Steven Gabbe, M.D. During a visit to Niger, where their son was posted in a remote rural village for his Peace Corps service, Gabbe and his wife, Patricia Temple, M.D., professor of Pediatrics, became convinced that Vanderbilt needed to be even more active in promoting health on a global scale.

It is evident in the international health component of the innovative “Emphasis Program,” which allows first- and second-year medical students to pursue research and scholarship outside the classroom. Under the guidance of Peter Wright, M.D., director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, more than 20 students are tackling projects in a dozen countries this summer.

Second-year medical student India Fox Landrigan has just published a manuscript about her experience in polio eradication in northern India. The remarkable odyssey of Milton Ochieng’—who also has just finished his second year of medical school—is reported elsewhere in this issue of Lens.

Why do we highlight a global health agenda when the problems in Tennessee are so acute and the need is so obvious? One reason is that the lessons learned in health care abroad apply here at home, and vice versa.

Each year several of our faculty members in Emergency Medicine provide medical services and training for local health care providers all over the globe, from Peru and Zambia to the Ukraine. Their international expertise was put to good use last year in New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

International health care also is provided by Vanderbilt faculty, staff and students through Nashville’s Siloam Family Health Center, which serves refugees from war-torn Southern Sudan, Kurds from Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, and immigrants from several Latin American countries.

About a decade ago, Wei Zheng, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, and Xiao Ou Shu, M.D., MPH, Ph.D., a husband-and-wife research team, initiated several large cohort studies among women and men in Shanghai. These studies—which Zheng and Shu have continued since joining the Department of Medicine—are teaching us about dietary risk factors for cancer and heart disease in this country.

Page 1 2 3 > All