The University of California Global Health Institute (UCGHI) has over its 10-year history helped lead a paradigm shift in approaches to global health challenges through its support of new ways of thinking about how human health, animals and the environment are intertwined. As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, how communities and researchers can learn from one another and develop innovative new solutions together will continue to be a crucial part of UCGHI’s work.
“The real power in terms of impact and innovation comes when you bring people together, and help people make connections,” said Patricia Conrad, UCGHI co-director. “What UCGHI does is to facilitate that cross-campus, multi-campus effort in terms of education, research, forming partnerships and catalyzing collaboration.”
Many of those partnerships and collaborations were forged through the One Health Center of Expertise (COE), which operated from 2010 to 2015, and the Planetary Health COE, which was launched in 2016.
In 2010, shortly after its launch, UCGHI issued a call for proposals from faculty and researchers based at UC campuses to establish multi-campus COEs that would focus on different aspects of global health.
One of the three successful proposals was for a COE focusing on a then-new concept: One Health. At the time, “global health” was itself a fairly new term, said Conrad, who co-led the One Health COE along with Anil Deolalikar, current chair of the UCGHI board of directors. Previously, “tropical diseases” and “international health” were more commonly-used terms, she said.
“Global health” represented a shift towards thinking about improving health and well-being for all people worldwide. The term “one health” was coined to convey that human health is not determined by a single cause and in isolation of other factors. “Instead, it is a confluence of concurrent and synergistic factors, such as water, plants, animals, climate, and human behavior, that together determine human health,” Deolalikar said.
The One Health COE, led by Deolalikar at UC Riverside and Conrad at UC Davis, conducted interdisciplinary, solutions-based research and established connections with research and teaching communities around the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Workshops were held in Tanzania, Kenya and India for local researchers and students, and several research collaborations with Ugandan universities led to Ugandan scholars studying at UC Davis.
Another focus of the Center was to train UC students in incorporating the one-health approach in their education. The Center received a $3 million IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) grant from the National Science Foundation to bring together graduate students working in disparate disciplines to appreciate and understand “the interdisciplinary nature of many societal challenges that they were seeking to address in their doctoral research,” Deolalikar said.
The grant supported 25 UC Riverside graduate doctoral students from a variety of disciplines, including engineering, plant and botany sciences, anthropology, economics, sociology, political science, history, and environmental sciences, to work on interdisciplinary solutions to the global challenge of water security and safety over six years. The students connected each month to share research and perspectives from their respective disciplines on the larger problem of water and health.
The project was emblematic of UCGHI’s mission to “change the mindset of the next generation of students,” Deolalikar said. “Health is an interdisciplinary subject, and it takes researchers from different disciplines – not just the health sciences – to work together to solve the many health challenges facing societies all over the world today.”
Additionally, the One Health COE developed a UC Riverside/UC Davis cross-campus graduate course in global health as well as a new undergraduate major/minor in global disease biology at UC Davis.
While both Conrad and Deolalikar felt the Center was successful, both also wanted to allow an opening for new ideas, approaches, and researchers. “There was a very conscious decision made by UCGHI leadership to sunset all three existing COEs and call for a fresh set of COE proposals,” Deolalikar said. The two chose not to recompete in the next call for proposals.
Two new COEs replaced the previous three. One, the Planetary Health COE, has a slightly different but related approach as One Health.
As a concept, planetary health’s premise is simple, Conrad said: “It draws attention to the impact people and animals have on the environment and compels us to consider how these changes impact our health.”
One Health and planetary health “originated from different perspectives; however, they are very compatible and synergistic” she said.
In Deolalikar’s opinion, while both concepts are concerned about the link between human health and the eco-social environment, “planetary health is much more comprehensive and takes into consideration the health of both human civilization and the natural systems on which it depends,” he said.
The Planetary Health COE’s goals include putting California at the center of a transition from science to effective policy, building local and global networks to advance planetary health and inspiring and educating youth in planetary health. The COE is led by Woutrina Smith at UC Davis and David Lopez-Carr at UC Santa Barbara.
Latinxs and the Environment is one of the ways the Planetary Health COE achieves these goals. Run by Federico Castillo, an environmental and agricultural economist, the program operates out of UC Berkeley. Castillo said he was motivated to start the program when he noticed how few Latinx students took his environmental economics and forestry economics classes. This was a problem not just from a representation perspective but because Latinxs and African Americans will be disproportionately harmed by climate change, Castillo said.
The program offers scholarships and research opportunities for Latinx students and educates them on how to advance their educational careers. Two summits have been held for students to discuss issues affecting them and the Latinx community more broadly. Lupe Gallegos-Diaz, Director of Chicanx Latinx Academic Student Office and a co-leader of the Latinx and the Environment Initiative coordinates with Dr. Castillo student development activities.
The program also links researchers with and helps the Latinx community in California. For example, Castillo studies heat’s effects on agricultural workers. As part of his research, he visits the town of Huron and nearby communities, a high-poverty and overwhelmingly Latinx area in the Central Valley where summer temperatures frequently top 100 degrees. Many of the town’s residents are agricultural workers and spend their days in the sun, which harms their health. After the town’s mayor asked how Castillo and his fellow researchers would help residents cope with the heat, the program is developing informational tools to make sure workers cope with heat in an efficient way.
In October, along with members of the California state government, UC faculty members and community based organizations the program will hold a joint meeting with Mexico counterparts where environment and planetary health approaches will be discussed. The goal is to link Mexican researchers and UC researchers to help California and Mexico work on shared solutions to shared problems. Climate change is an example.
“Climate change doesn’t stop at the Mexican border, at Tijuana. It just happens and it takes over,” Castillo said.
Along with climate change, topics at the conference will include clean energy, migration, labor and health, and agriculture and water, he said.
Latinxs and the Environment is one of the many ways that, in the nearly 10 combined years of their existence, the two COEs have helped shaped global health within the UC system and more broadly.
The UC system “is so big and so impactful, with worldwide prestige,” Conrad said. “UCGHI’s promotion of One Health and then planetary health has helped to draw attention to the importance of these approaches and initiatives.”
“One Health is now an internationally recognized approach, particularly in the field of emerging infectious diseases, Conrad said. In a 2018 report, the World Bank advocated for One Health as an effective public health approach to cope with zoonotic diseases, which make up the majority of emerging infectious diseases, as well as “aspects of vector-borne disease, food and water safety and security, and antimicrobial resistance.”
Planetary health is gaining momentum. The approach has been embraced by the Consortium of Universities for Global Health, which includes 170 academic institutions and other organizations from around the world. An annual meeting of planetary health experts will be held in September at Stanford University.
UCGHI leadership is now envisioning a possibly new approach to its structure beyond 2020. It is considering whether its mission will be best advanced via a third call for COE proposals or a competition for smaller seed grants from multi-disciplinary and multi-campus faculty teams to address new, emerging global health challenges.
One goal will be to “develop stronger connections and messaging to policy-makers and civil-society organizations in California to make the case for a higher policy priority on improving the health of Californians and the sustainability of the California we live in and love,” Deolalikar said.
Global health isn’t just about studying health problems in Africa or Southeast Asia, he said. “It is very much about studying health challenges in California, learning from policy lessons from around the world and applying them to solve problems at home – essentially, to develop a ‘think globally, act locally’ mindset within the health community,” he said.