Research and development in universities generate a majority of the evidence-based global health innovations that are introduced in the developing world.
Confession: I love academics. I find my work particularly meaningful when I come across evidence-based game-changers for health issues at home and abroad. It seems a natural fit, then, that, having discussed the roles of government and non-government organizations in global health funding, the final piece in my three-part series will focus on the role of universities in global health.
Academic research plays a vital role in the discovery of new drugs, the analysis of care pathways, and the development of global public health campaigns. Approximately one-third to one-quarter of all new drugs originate in university labs. It is in universities where the best minds are free to explore possibilities, to experiment, to learn from failures and promote successes.
Rating agencies recently released grades for universities in the UK, US, and Canada. In the UK, the Global Health Research League Table (GHRLT) measured the commitment of the UK’s top 25 funded universities to global health research based on their level of investment in global health and medical research that addresses neglected diseases. The UK universities are also graded based on access to their innovations in developing countries, as well as access to their discoveries in the online research community.
Source: Global Health Grades
In North America, 50 universities were ranked similarly, on investment in research and access. Additionally, North American grades include a third category: empowerment. Empowerment scores, in this case, are determined by how well an institution prepares the next generation of global health leaders to respond to access and innovation crises.
Source: Global Health Grades
Our society loves grades. They consolidate performance in a convenient and easy to understand package. Even my six-year-old son, in glancing at my laptop as I wrote this article, was eager to scroll up to the top of the list to see “who got an A.” In the fields of medicine and global health, though, it seems important to remember that even a “C” means that there is progress. Ultimately, grades matter little.
In comments about the rankings, Harvard University’s Paul Farmer states his belief that they “illuminate the effects of academic biomedical research on the health of the world’s poor, and hold universities accountable for the impact, or lack of impact, that their policies have on global health.”
Universities can improve their impact on global health—grades aside—by bolstering their research programs that focus on health in low and middle-income countries and neglected diseases. They can foster innovative communities by opening up access to their research, sharing best practices, and allowing generic drug makers to develop lower-cost versions of medicines.
The nuviun industry network is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.