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UW plans global health department

Associated Press

SEATTLE – The University of Washington plans to launch a new Department of Global Health over the next academic year, with a focus on ways to improve the health of people in Third World countries.

Students in the department would seek new vaccines and other tools to fight disease, a mission that ties in with the primary initiative of the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is contributing $10 million toward launching the department.

A leading candidate to become the department’s first chairman is Dr. Thomas Quinn, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Quinn, a pioneering HIV/AIDS researcher, lived in Kirkland 25 years ago while studying as a UW senior fellow.

He confirmed his interest to the Seattle Times. He said he had met with senior people at the Gates Foundation, created by Microsoft founder Gates and his wife. “If you take an academic institution and link it with the foundation, you can imagine the possibilities are boundless,” Quinn said.

The new department would be run by the UW’s School of Medicine and its School of Public Health and Community Medicine.

Only a handful of U.S. schools have such programs, but interest is growing, said Dr. Nils Daulaire, chief executive of the Vermont-based Global Health Council. “This is one of the explosive areas now in education,” Daulaire said. “I’m seeing a dozen different universities setting up similar initiatives, and students are flocking to it.”

Seattle is an “enormous magnet” for global-health efforts with its mix of private, academic, technical and philanthropic ventures, Daulaire said. Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are also in the mix, he said.

The new department could one day be home to as many as 50 faculty and 200 students in degree programs, UW Public Health Dean Pat Wahl said. Additional students likely would take department courses.

The School of Public Health plans to build a $36 million building in the next few years and global health would get two or three floors, Wahl said. Research laboratories planned for the South Lake Union area in Seattle also would house programs.

“It’s generated just a tremendous amount of interest and enthusiasm,” she said.

The UW hopes students will form close ties with other local global-health enterprises, such as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, a nonprofit that works in developing countries.

Those ties could result in PATH staff working as adjunct UW faculty and UW students joining staff in the field, said Jacqueline Sherris, a strategic program leader at PATH. The UW already has a small international-health program with about 20 students and another 10 who study in a Peace Corps program, Wahl said. Those programs likely will move to the new department, she said.

Over time, the Global Health Department may add doctoral and undergraduate degrees, and expand existing master’s programs, Sherris said.

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