Our Global Citizenship

This month’s activities celebrating the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary and the opening of our new Joint Institute for Translational & Clinical Research with Peking University Health Science Center got me thinking about the song It’s a Small World. I am not sure why it popped into my head, but there it was, conjuring up memories of when my husband and I took our children to Disneyland years ago.

Within moments of entering the Park, we’d inevitably be in line for that ride. I can’t tell you how many times I sat in one of those little boats for the 15-minute cruise around the world, listening to that song play over and over again in various languages.  After about the third time around, I would wonder what my children and all children were learning from this experience. Because behind that complex animated entertainment is the very simple, yet powerful, message that we’re all together in this world and we’re more alike than we are different.

Over time, with advances in technology and communications, our world has become even smaller and, quite possibly, we’ve become more similar. More than ever, nations across the globe are dependent on each other for so many things, including the health of our environment, economies and citizens.

If the University of Michigan is to become a leader in global medicine and a model for multidisciplinary international research – and I believe that we can achieve this ambitious goal – we must  deepen our understanding of disease and its impact on individuals, communities and nations worldwide; we must invite global perspectives and ideas into our labs, classrooms and offices; we must gather clinical data from international populations; and we must collaborate with experts from across the globe to expose ourselves to new ways of solving the health problems facing our world.

We already have notable success in this realm, including:

  • Incredible work in Ghana, with OB/GYN training programs to decrease maternal and child mortality and build up the in-country health care workforce, and a new Emergency Room residency program that recently received NIH funding
  • Establishment of clinical, research or education relationships with more than 70 countries through Global REACH
  • Local symposia and conferences, such as the one hosted by the Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology two weeks ago to build on our vibrant partnership with Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland
  • An outstanding U-M Center for Global Health that includes more than 200 faculty and students from our schools of Medicine, Public Health, Engineering, Nursing, Social Work, Anthropology, Social Sciences and other disciplines working with global partners to identify and implement sustainable solutions that address health inequities around the world

Additionally, since 2004, more than 740 medical students have participated in global experiences through clinical rotations and service/learning/research trips and more than 120 international delegations have visited the Medical School, resulting in creation of 11 formal Memoranda of Understanding, with four additional MOUs in development.

Our global citizenship also includes supporting the work of international colleagues. Next month, I am privileged to participate in a ceremony presenting the U-M Wallenberg Medal to Dr. Denis Mukwege, OB/GYN, surgeon and medical director of Panzi Hospital in the eastern Congo.  The Wallenberg Medal is given in recognition of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews near the end of World War II. Every year, we give this award to someone whose courageous actions reflect Wallenberg’s extraordinary accomplishments and values. This year, Dr. Mukwege is being honored for his impressive work bringing attention to the continued problem of warfare and sexual violence in the Congo.

This is just a sample of the many ways the University of Michigan is establishing a substantial and influential footprint in global health.

On a personal note, I would like to dedicate this newsletter to Sujal Parikh, one of our most stellar, most compassionate and most selfless medical students who lost his life this month while conducting AIDS research in Uganda. In an article on AnnArbor.com, Sujal’s father noted how his son once said that when a man dies “nobody is going to remember what religion he had or how much wealth he accumulated…all that’s going to count is what the person did for the common man and that will be that person’s legacy.” In just 25 years of life, Sujal built an amazing legacy that will live on through the lives he improved and his exceptional work.

It is indeed a small world and, together, we are making it healthier.  What do you think?