May 4, 2009 - By Tracie White
(Left) Michele Barry, MD, with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
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STANFORD, Calif. - The United States and other nations need to invest in global health research to stop infectious diseases at their source and help avert future public health emergencies such as the outbreaks of the H1N1 flu, said global health expert Michele Barry, MD, who arrived May 1 to assume the new position of senior associate dean for global health at the Stanford University School of Medicine and director of global health programs in the school's Department of Medicine.
"A global health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community," said Barry, who has been fielding hundreds of calls on the swine-flu scare while packing up and moving to the West Coast after a 28-year medical career at Yale University. "An investment in global health research should be perceived not just as a matter of national defense but as a global health imperative."
Barry is an expert in tropical medicine and emerging infectious disease, as well as in the health problems of developing nations due to globalization. She is a past president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and is a member of the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences.
"This newly created post reflects our commitment to the importance of education, research and patient-care issues related to global health," Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, wrote in his April newsletter. "While a number of faculty are involved in research in global health and still others conduct education and patient-care activities in a variety of international settings, we have lacked a central office and an individual identified to lead the school's efforts in this increasingly important area. Dr. Barry is an ideal choice for this role."
Barry sees the H1N1 flu as a clear case of the importance of how globalization has impacted health. "When one can circle the globe in less than the time of incubation of most infectious pathogens, it is clear every country's diseases becomes ours. Scientists and researchers, through innovative research, geo-surveillance and overseas partnerships, can make us secure efficiently, quietly and at relatively low cost," she said.
Barry sees her new role as coordinator of the numerous global health efforts both at the medical school and across the Stanford University campus. Before arriving, she sent 150 e-mails to a variety of Stanford faculty and researchers, asking about interest in global health and got "a tremendous response across campus from a diverse group of students and faculty involved in global health-equity issues." She has commuted from the East Coast weekly for the past four months to interview these faculty and students to better understand their vision of global health and the potential for collaboration and multidisciplinary initiatives.
Helping to create both a Web portal for all Stanford faculty activities in the global health arena and an Office of Global Health anchored at the medical school would be the first steps toward achieving this goal of cross-campus coordination, she said.
"I think the best way global health initiatives can be achieved is through a multidisciplinary approach," Barry said. "This means partnerships at all levels of the university. I plan on trying to seed interest across disciplines to tackle the hard questions in how to achieve global health equity."
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At Yale, Barry was a professor of medicine and global health and director of the Office of International Health. She also directed the Yale/Johnson and Johnson Physician Scholar Award program that has sent more than 1,000 physicians to work overseas. Research!America named Barry a 2009 "ambassador" for the nonprofit organization's Paul G. Rogers Society for Global Health Research to work as an advocate in Congress for global health research.
Both Barry and her husband, Mark Cullen, MD, were recruited to Stanford from Yale as professors of medicine. Cullen, whose career has focused on environmental and occupational health and the impact of socioeconomic disparities on health, also began his new position at Stanford as chief of the division of general internal medicine on May 1.
"Both my husband and I went into medicine for political reasons," Barry said. "To try to make a difference. Our focus has always been on underserved populations."
Working together at Yale for almost three decades, the couple routinely took a semester every three years to live overseas with their two daughters and work in countries ranging from Zimbabwe to South Africa to Ecuador.
This summer, Barry will announce the anchoring of a unique Global Health Corps at Stanford, a program similar to the Peace Corps, designed to send college graduates to underserved areas around the globe to work for global health equity. The summer training institute for the first group of corps members chosen from more than 1,000 applicants will be held at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. The mission of the corps will be to pair U.S. college graduates with their African colleagues around the globe for a year of service.
"As today's headlines show all too vividly, good health is absolutely central to global stability, growth and development, and under constant threat," said Coit Blacker, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. "We are delighted to welcome Michele Barry to Stanford and so fortunate that she will be leading an integrated, multidisciplinary initiative in global health."
About Stanford Medicine
Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.