Keynote speaker Francis Barchi says that global health solutions require 'more than medicine'
BY ROBIN LALLY AND CARLA CANTOR
Rutgers undergraduates and students from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey stood side-by-side last night presenting health-related research at a global health fair – the first public collaborative event since legislation was enacted and approved by the Rutgers governing boards to bring together the two institutions.
“It’s going to be an exciting time to be a student here, when a world-class university combines with a first-rate academic medical center to start working together in global health,” said keynote speaker Francis Barchi, a senior fellow at Rutgers’ Institute for Women’s Leadership whose research focuses on women’s health in southern Africa. She will join the faculty at the School of Social Work in January.
Barchi’s talk, “Necessary But Not Sufficient: The Role of Medicine in Global Health,” addressed a number of important global health topics including health inequities, the role of medicine in treating HIV/AIDS, climate change, women and children, and the importance of multidisciplinary approaches in improving outcomes.
“Heightened public awareness of global inequities can fuel social and political activism around health as a human right,” Barchi told an audience of faculty, staff and students from both institutions. She said the field of global health focuses on poor, more vulnerable populations. “It promotes equity in access to health care and health resources. It embraces both prevention at a population level and clinical care at an individual one,” she added.
Inequality is likely to remain a defining feature of the 21st century, according to Barchi. Globally, she said, the poorest 40 percent of the world's populaton accounts for 5 percent of global income, while the three richest people in the world control more wealth than all 600 million people living in the world's poorest countries. Africa, for example, has 12 percent of the world population, 25 percent of the global disease burden, and only 3 percent of the world's health workers.
The health fair, jointly sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Medical School’s Office of Global Health and Rutgers, was held at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
Joanna Regulska, vice president for international and global affairs at Rutgers, said the university decided to collaborate with the medical school after it became apparent that most of the schools and institutes that make up UMDNJ would be integrated into Rutgers.
“We are looking at how we can bring these two institutions together to create an even more comprehensive global health program,” Regulska said. “Collaboration is crucial when it comes to enhancing language skills, understanding cultural issues, and promoting clinical expertise for both medical students and undergraduates.”
Javier Escobar, associate dean for global health at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said the Office of Global Health and the school’s global health fair began four years ago to provide support for students pursuing international research and clinical activities. About 50 students each year from UMDNJ participate in global health electives and summer fellowships in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. Escobar and Regulska are working together to attract more candidates and expand the program geographically.
More than a dozen Rutgers undergraduates joined students from across UMDNJ’s professional schools displaying poster research projects at this year’s event. Nutritional science undergraduates in Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences presented research on community health programs in Brazil and undergraduates in the School of Arts and Sciences answered questions about their trip investigating AIDS treatment and barriers to care in health clinics in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Barchi, who has worked extensively in Botswanna, Tanzania and Guatemala, emphasized that global health problems, and the key to their solutions, are multi-dimensional. “To achieve gains … we need more than medicine,” she said. “To succeed, prevention strategies often require social, economic and behavioral change. We will need sociologists, social workers, engineers, business executives, agricultural specialists, anthropologists and teachers.”
Barchi addressed her closing remarks specifically to the students in the audience. Her advice: engage early and often in your studies with others, both in medicine and outside medicine, with common interests in global health. Look for clubs and groups outside of the health sphere that worry about global issues – Engineers without Borders, social justice groups and the living and learning communities on campus.
“Students that are multidisciplinary are going to be increasingly treasured in the world of global health,” Barchi said. “Global health is here and needing your attention.”