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Transforming Reality, Transforming Ourselves
Transforming Reality, Transforming Ourselves
Jerry Spiegel
February 8, 2006

On the fateful day of Sept 11, 2001, a group of 25 Canadian university-based and low and middle income country (LMIC) health researchers were wrapping up a workshop with funding agencies and non-governmental organizations at UBC’s Liu Institute for Global Issues. They were exploring how Canada could better contribute to correct the global imbalance in health research, where the vast majority of activity was focusing on the wealthiest countries, and not on the world’s disease burden being endured in the LMICs. Shortly after this meeting, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Health Canada signed a memorandum of understanding that established the Global Health Research Initiative (GHRI). So while the landscape for global interactions was experiencing dramatic shifts, Canada was simultaneously being better positioned to meet the challenge.

As a result of the modest GHRI funding opportunities ($8 million from 2002 to 2005) that have now become available, Canadian universities have been encouraged to look for opportunities for further involvement in partnership activities — over 70 new such partnerships have already been established. Furthermore, a recent competition for broader research program initiatives attracted over 240 proposals. It is undeniable that there is a sharply growing interest in finding ways to address global health challenges, from the HIV-AIDS pandemic that is ravaging sub- Saharan Africa and threatening India and China; to emerging infectious diseases such as an avian flu pandemic; or the 10 million children under the age of five who die annually as a result of preventable diseases that rarely kill children in rich countries.

At the University of British Columbia (UBC), this challenge comes at a time when the role of the university in society has been questioned, particularly its ability to “prepare students to become exceptional global citizens,” in the words of UBC’s Trek 2010 Vision. From this perspective, it is clear that to transform the world, we must transform ourselves and our institutions. Nothing less will do. And with this focus, we have a virtually unending set of potential natural experiments where we can forge effective partnerships to build the strength we need to consolidate.

Among the scores of international health projects involving UBC faculty and students across the globe, I have the good fortune to be directing one that embodies many of the principles that are inherent in forging creative partnerships. Under CIDA’s University Partnerships in Cooperation and Development program, we have combined faculty from 10 UBC centres and institutes to partner with three universities in Ecuador (Cuenca, Machala and Bolivar) to establish a capacity to sustainably manage environmental health risks. In undertaking this challenge, we are also partnered with institutes in Cuba and Mexico with whom we have worked to reinforce the “South-South” linkages that can enhance sustainability through regional networks of excellence, and thus better position our university for broader longterm collaborations.

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Source: The Embassy - Canada's Foreign Policy Newspaper

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