UNC Creates Institute for Global Health, Infectious Diseases

UNC, which already has a global health presence in about 50 countries, is launching an Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases with the intent of extending and enhancing Carolina’s ongoing research efforts to improve the lives of people around the world. The institute is based in the School of Medicine.

“Carolina is a world power in global health,” Chancellor James Moeser noted. The new institute “builds on our faculty’s historic strengths in medicine and public health so that Carolina research will be even more effective in improving and saving lives here and around the globe.”

Among examples of where Carolina already is active globally in health affairs:

  • Eight full-time UNC researchers and more than 300 local employees are fighting malaria and HIV/AIDS transmission in Malawi.
  • Faculty are targeting the resurgence of syphilis in China and Madagascar.
  • Faculty are leading an international consortium to develop a new oral drug to treat African sleeping sickness, which threatens the lives of millions.

UNC investigators also are active in India, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Russia, Thailand, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, South America and the Caribbean.

The institute’s launch comes as the University formally dedicated on University Day, Oct. 12, the FedEx Global Education Center, which brings international education and research on campus under one roof, and it follows its co-sponsorship of a global health forum that kicked off in December at Peking University in Beijing. Moeser led a UNC delegation participating in the forum, which will return to Chapel Hill early next year for an event focusing on U.S. health care reform.

Dr. Myron S. Cohen, associate vice chancellor for global health in the medical school, has been named institute director. Cohen, the J. Herbert Bate Distinguished Professor of medicine, microbiology and public health, is a leading expert on the spread and prevention of AIDS. A UNC faculty member for 27 years, he has served as director of the medical school’s division of infectious diseases since 1989. Dr. Peggy Bentley, associate dean for global health in the School of Public Health, will be associate director of the institute. A professor of nutrition, she joined the UNC faculty in 1998, is an expert on maternal and child health and nutrition and has worked in several countries.

Cohen said the institute was positioned for success because of the strengths of UNC’s interdisciplinary research programs focusing on infectious diseases, nutrition and clean water. Many of those efforts are based in the School of Public Health, which has an Office of Global Health and will become the Dennis and Joan Gillings School of Global Public Health through a $50 million pledge, the single largest in University history, to the Carolina First Campaign.

“The key ingredients in global health include the things we often take for granted: control and treatment of infectious diseases, good nutrition and clean water,” Cohen said. “When a country takes control of these issues, all things become possible. We have a unique opportunity to build a truly integrated program that can respond quickly as diseases that can affect us all unfold with greater frequency in places like Africa or Asia.”

The institute is beginning its work with support from the University and more than $20 million annually in federally funded research grants for ongoing international research projects. Those include UNC’s role as one of the lead universities in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease’s Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology, part of a major national effort to develop a cure for HIV infection. The new institute has folded in the former Center for Infectious Disease based in the School of Medicine.

Institute goals include promoting collaboration with campus people and programs as well as with international global health organizations in Research Triangle Park, Cohen said. Other priorities include more closely linking global health activities in research, teaching and service in the University’s five health affairs schools — dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health — with the College of Arts and Sciences, the Kenan-Flagler Business School and the schools of law, journalism and mass communication, and social work, among others.

“Health concerns do not respect borders, and the University can only reach its true potential and best serve the people of North Carolina through the globalization of our programs,” said Dr. William L. Roper, vice chancellor for medical affairs, dean of the School of Medicine and chief executive officer of UNC Health Care. “We gain valuable knowledge through this work that we can put to use here at home for treatment and disease prevention.”

Barbara K. Rimer, dean of the School of Public Health, agreed. “Carolina has a proven track record of discovering solutions to public health problems and putting them into practice across North Carolina and around the world. This institute will enable all of us to work even more closely and have a greater impact on health and wellness, both locally and globally.”

The new institute also will focus on expanding curriculum, internship and research opportunities for students. Key opportunities for collaborations include student-led public service initiatives, such as Carolina for Kibera Inc., an award-winning program launched by UNC undergraduates in 2001 to serve an urban slum in Kenya and tackle issues such as ethnic violence and youth development.

Other developments that will closely involve the institute include a new curriculum for international studies that, beginning in 2008, will provide UNC students with an opportunity to focus on global health. The curriculum results from a Frameworks Program in Global Health funded by Fogarty International, the international component of the NIH, with a grant to expand UNC’s global health offerings and research opportunities.

Long term, institute plans also call for creating a Global Health Scholars Program to enable more faculty and students to work in collaborating international sites, Cohen said.

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