Seeking fresh new approaches to global health policy, the CSIS Commission on Smart Global Health launched a contest to attract innovative ideas that work. The Commission on Smart Global Health knows that front-line global health professionals, volunteers, and students have a wealth of expertise and offered scholarships or prizes and publication to the best responses. Entrants needed only to answer one question: What is the most important thing the U.S. can do to improve global health over the next 15 years?
We are pleased to have selected this essay by Michael Strong for 1st place in the non-student division.
Michael Strong is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Genetics Department at Harvard Medical School. Michael will soon be joining the faculty of National Jewish Health as an assistant professor, where he will continue his research on issues affecting global health and disease.
Throughout the past century, great strides have taken place in our ability to both recognize and treat diseases affecting global health. As a community, we have progressed from knowing very little about the etiological agents of diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, to understanding much about the biology and the causative agents of disease. Such efforts have culminated with the elucidation of the genome sequence of a host of deadly human pathogens including those that cause tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis), malaria (P. falciparum), and AIDS (HIV). Such efforts promise to provide clues to better combat these deadly diseases in the coming years.
Although we have learned much about the causative agents of infectious diseases, as well as methods to combat them, there remains a vast chasm separating the quality of health care for individuals in developed countries versus developing countries. There are many factors contributing to these disparities including inadequate access to medical facilities, physicians, and medications; poor nutrition; misinformation about disease and prevention; environmental and economic factors; cultural attitudes; and living conditions. Diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are ravaging many parts of the world, and as a result, there is immediate need to address these diseases using a three tiered approach, focusing on research, education, and international collaboration.
Research There is no doubt that research has led to innumerable breakthroughs in our efforts to combat disease. Breakthroughs have ranged from the discovery of new antibiotics to the development of vaccines. Even so, there are huge challenges that remain to be adequately addressed. We still do not have an effective vaccine or drug regiment to eradicate AIDS; drugs that were once effective for fighting tuberculosis are rendered ineffective with the emergence of multi‐drug resistant (MDR) and extensively drug resistant (XDR) tuberculosis, and millions of individuals are still dying from dehydration related diseases, often attributed to contaminated water or food sources.
An increased commitment to research is greatly needed in order to guarantee the discovery and development of the next generation of antibiotics, vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics. Funding for basic science research, as well as clinical and translational research, is essential, for it is the basic science research that serves as the foundation upon which medical breakthroughs are built. We must also be committed to funding research efforts beyond the borders of our own country, particularly in countries that are most affected by endemic disease affecting global health, because it is in these areas where we will learn the most about these diseases, and have the greatest potential for discovery and impact.
Education Second, we must do more to educate individuals regarding global health issues at home and abroad. Most of our citizens care deeply about health issues, but need to be reminded about the prevalence and devastation of disease outside of our borders. A renewed global health educational campaign will have great impacts, ranging from increasing the number of people wanting to be involved in global health projects, to increasing the funding for global health projects through philanthropy and government sponsored projects. We can learn lessons from other successful awareness campaigns, and should strive to educate and involve a larger segment of the US population in regard to global health issues. In turn, these efforts will increase education and awareness abroad, since these efforts will help infuse both people and funds into international global health programs.
International Collaboration Third, we must encourage more people to become involved in international collaborations, particularly with individuals in countries most affected by global health disparities. This can be done through increased funding for multinational endeavors, as well as increased opportunities in which individuals can connect. These efforts can be stimulated by holding more scientific symposium in developing countries, and by creating internet‐based platforms where people can connect with like‐minded individuals across the globe. Collaboration can take many forms, ranging from shared scientific pursuits to a common interest in global health, but we must increase the frequency of international exchanges in order to more rapidly achieve the overall goal of finding solutions combat global health disparities and disease.
As a scientist, conducting research on tuberculosis for the better part of a decade, I have been struck by the dedication and hard work put forth by those pursuing solutions to combat devastating diseases affecting global health. I have been most impressed by those individuals who have made an effort to bridge geographic boundaries to collaborate and work in countries where diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and AIDS are rampant. It is my hope, that in the next 15 years, more individuals will get involved in the global health movement, to help reduce global health disparities and to devise solutions to raise the quality of life and healthcare for all individuals, unrestrained by geographic boundaries.