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ND hosts three-day series on global health

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, March 21, 2007

After last fall’s Notre Dame Forum on the global health crisis generated significant campus interest, the University decided to continue the initiative by hosting a three-day series of meetings for the Notre Dame community to further discuss its role in addressing these issues.

“I think when the global health forum happened on Sept. 14, it catalyzed a lot of conversations on campus about what we are as a University are doing to impact global health,” Vice President and Associate Provost Dennis Jacobs said. “No one on this campus knew all that was going on. There were a lot of initiatives happening on one side of the University that the other side didn’t know about.”

The meetings started Tuesday, focusing on the University’s large project initiatives such as the Center for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, the Haiti Project and the Millennium Village Project. Today’s meeting will address research initiatives on global health issues and Thursday’s discussion will focus on service learning projects and outreach in developing countries.

The idea for a broader campus discourse on global health began in the fall with the hope of carrying the discussion into the spring semester, Jacobs said.

“I think what happened shortly after the forum – a few weeks after – was that students, faculty and staff said, ‘This is a big issue, what can I do?’ What we didn’t have to offer at that time was a vision of what the campus was doing,” Jacobs said. “There were a number of individuals that wanted to participate, but there was no forum to allow them to do so.”

Jacobs said the meetings are one way the University hopes to facilitate individual participation in dealing with the global health crisis.

“This week will create a mechanism for a set of opportunities, which is likely to draw more participation – the interest level is already there,” he said.

Stephen Silliman, a civil engineering and geological sciences professor who is in charge of the committee responsible for this week’s events, said the structure will be similar for all three meetings. Each meeting will include introductions of the overall projects, small group discussions and an examination of campus activities currently in place.

Silliman said the meetings would attempt to determine whether there are any “roadblocks” to pursuing solutions on issues of global health, and Jacobs said the conversations will focus on “how do we as a community respond.”

“[These events are] much more in the mode of action – they’re about what can we do and what are we doing,” Jacobs said. “… What I particularly like about this set of ‘town hall meetings’ is that they are really at the grassroots level – it is completely organized by individuals who are passionate about this cause.”

Although next year’s forum will focus on immigration, Jacobs said the University will continue its efforts to improve global health.

“In no way do we want to imply that we’ve solved the problem or that after one year there’s no concern for global health now that we’ve moved onto immigration,” Jacobs said. “I would hope that we don’t just deal with an issue on an intellectual level but that we put into action what we value and believe – those kinds of initiatives always live on more than a one-year cycle.”

The planning committee, which was formed in October, includes students, faculty and staff members of the University who were interested in the issues raised by the Forum, Silliman said.

Undergraduate students were instrumental in advertising the week’s events, Silliman said, and several faculty members have contributed to the development of questions that will be addressed at the meetings.

“By putting our ideas together we can find more effective solutions [to the global health crisis] and create a great model for the University on how to solve problems, and this requires expertise from the entire University,” Jacobs said.