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ND takes health research to U.N.

Kaitlynn Riely | Thursday, September 20, 2007

Notre Dame and Purdue University researchers will present their work on global health initiatives Sept. 25 at a side event for the opening of the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly.

This one-time event, sponsored by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, is a chance to tell four stories from Notre Dame, said Dennis Jacobs, vice president and associate provost at Notre Dame.

The event, entitled “Global Health in Focus,” will take place at 1:15 p.m. in Holy Family Hall on 315 E. 47th St. in New York City.

Approximately 30 countries have received personal invitations to the presentation, Jacobs said, most of which are African countries that have been devastated by HIV/AIDs. The rest of the U.N. assembly has been invited as well, he said.

The Notre Dame delegation, which will present some of the work professors are doing to improve global health on a local scale in countries like Haiti, Uganda and Benin, hopes speak with delegates from the countries where Notre Dame representatives are working.

Another goal of the delegation is to put Notre Dame’s work on global health issues “on a world stage,” Jacobs said.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Permanent Observer to the Holy See at the U.N., came to Indiana last spring and heard about what Notre Dame and Purdue were doing in the field of global health issues, Jacobs said. He then offered to hold the presentation event in New York City.

Notre Dame turned its focus to global health publicly last fall with the Global Health Forum, which featured speakers who were leaders in initiatives to address health issues around the world. In January, University President Father John Jenkins led a Notre Dame delegation to Uganda to visit a Millennium Village Project co-sponsored by Notre Dame and Uganda Martyrs University.

Father Bob Dowd, a political science professor and the director of the Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative, will give a presentation related to Notre Dame’s work in the village of Nindye, entitled “Partnering with Local Institutions to Fight Extreme Poverty in Rural Uganda.”

He will discuss using a holistic approach to address issues like health care, education and HIV/AIDs in rural Ugandan villages and the benefits of partnering with local institutions, like Uganda Martyrs, to do so, Jacobs said.

Father Thomas Streit, whose work in Haiti has been featured on Notre Dame commercials during football games, will discuss efforts to end elephantiasis, a disease carried by mosquitoes that attacks the lymphatic system and leads to the swelling of body parts.

“It’s a socially stigmatizing disease, and it’s completely preventable,” Jacobs said. Streit’s goal is to eliminate the disease by 2013.

Stephen Silliman, a civil engineering and geological sciences professor, will give a presentation entitled “Partnering to Protect Quality Water in Benin.” Silliman has taken students to Benin to work with and train villagers so there is a local, trained work force, Jacobs said.

There will also be a presentation describing work done by Frank Collins, the George and Winifred Clark professor of biological sciences and the director of the Center for Global Health and Infectious Disease, who has been assessing the effectiveness of common malaria control apparatuses, like bed nets or insecticides.

These four projects are centered on relatively small locations, but the lessons learned in a place like Haiti can be “easily extrapolated and expanded,” Jacobs said.

“These efforts are important steps to understanding how local efforts can be expanded or scaled from regions to much larger areas across continents,” he said.

Purdue will make five presentations. Jacobs said Notre Dame and Purdue have been collaborating on research related to global health.

“They are devising an instrument that would be very useful for the diagnosis of HIV/AIDs,” he said. “Some of the technical aspects of that device are very similar to the projects going on at Notre Dame.”

The Purdue group, led by Senior Associate Vice President for Research Alan Rebar, will feature presentations by Joe Pekny, director of Discovery Park’s e-Enterprise Center entitled “Applying Systems Engineering to Global Health Challenges,” and “Development of Novel AIDS Testing Device.” Richard Kuhn, the head of biological sciences, will present “Emerging Diseases and Lessons from the Common Cold;” Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer, the associate dean of the College of Agriculture, will give a presentation entitled “Nutrition and Business Development Initiatives”; and Stephen Byrn, the head of the Department of Industrial and Physical Pharmacy will discuss “Pharmacy Education in Tanzania.”

The event is also co-sponsored by the Path to Peace Foundation.