“Why should I care?” With so many people in need all around us, people in our own communities, people across our state and our nation, it can be difficult to look past our immediate surroundings. The Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at UNC decided to tackle this quandary head-on by addressing the question, “why should I care?”

In 2002, the University made globalization one of its highest priorities. Shortly thereafter came the establishment of The Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases (IGHID) in 2007. At that time, health affairs faculty were already working successfully in well over 50 countries and the IGHID would bolster existing global health efforts. With initial flagship programs in Malawi, China and Nicaragua, the IGHID has expanded its footprint in those countries and around the world. The IGHID now manages 13 training fellowships that have trained almost 500 physicians and scientists.

UNC IGHID’s sites across the globe

UNC’s IGHID is committed to improving health in North Carolina and around the world by promoting global health research, teaching, and service. It maintains five global flagship health sites in Malawi, China, Zambia, Nicaragua, and Vietnam. They also work in many other countries such as the Dominican Republic, Tanzania, Guatemala, Democratic Republic of Congo, Thailand, Cambodia, Peru, Liberia, South Africa and Uganda. However, why should you care?

The IGHID has dedicated resources to and focused efforts on providing access to health care. Not only are their efforts humanitarian, they are practical. Many of the medical staff live in the areas they serve either full time or for extended periods. Additionally, the education, training and life experiences translate to improved care for those patients served here in North Carolina. Below you can learn about a few of their core program areas and perhaps answer the question, “why should I care?”

Water and Nutrition

More than a billion people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water, something we in the US take for granted. In fact, globally, individuals are more likely to have access to a cellphone than to clean water. Diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe drinking water are one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and more children die from diarrheal illnesses such as cholera than from HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. Diarrhea is the second largest killer of children under five worldwide. One of the main roles of UNC Project-Nicaragua is to develop better vaccines and treatment for diarrheal diseases including norovirus.

Women’s Health and Child Survival

UNC works to prevent and treat fistula and help women reintegrate into society, often after years, or even decades, of isolation and shame. Obstetric fistula is a devastating condition that occurs in girls and women almost exclusively in low-resource settings. It is caused by obstructed, prolonged labor leaving women incontinent, with uncontrollable leakage and therefore socially ostracized. This is curable in virtually every case, allowing women to reintegrate into society and support their families and communities.

The IGHID addresses the mental health and well-being of mothers, as the prevalence of sub-Saharan African women struggling with postpartum depression is 25%. Postpartum depression can negatively impact their ability to follow their wellness and medication regimen for HIV treatment and affect their ability to care for children, a task that falls almost exclusively on the mothers.

Seven of the nine UNC obstetrician-gynecologists in Zambia live there full time. With multiple OB-GYNs in Malawi and Zambia, UNC’s Division of Global Women’s Health is now the largest academic global women’s health department in the US.

Cancer

In developing countries, the lack of surgeons, specialists and access to treatment means that many otherwise treatable cancers are fatal. The UNC Global cancer program has clinical sites in Brazil, Malawi, Kenya, South Africa, India, and China.

Cultural stigma associated with breast cancer can result in women being ostracized and shunned from society. UNC Project-Malawi has the only medical oncologist in Malawi, a country of almost 19 million people. He and his team train women to teach self-breast exams to catch breast cancer earlier and minimize stigma.

Eighty-five percent of the burden of cervical cancer occurs in LMIC’s (low to middle income countries) and is the most prevalent women’s cancer in 37 countries. UNC Project-Zambia provides the only gynecologic oncologist in Zambia where the prevalence of cervical cancer is the highest in the continent.

Burns – Trauma/Surgery

Burns predominately affect children – the majority under the age of five. Globally, burns are a significant public health problem, and fire-related deaths (culturally related with open flame cooking and heating) are a leading cause of death among children and young adults. In Malawi, burns and injuries account for more deaths than TB, AIDS and Malaria combined. The UNC Malawi Surgical Initiative has increased the number of Malawian surgeons in the country from 14 to 25 in the past six years.

HIV

UNC researchers discovered that treating people for HIV makes them less infectious, reducing transmission by 96%, including mother to child transmission. This discovery will save more than five million lives. This research has inspired the world to imagine an AIDS-free generation. IGHID is also home to the largest HIV cure initiative in the world.

The laboratory set up by UNC Project-Malawi provides 70% of the pathology services in Malawi and has the only two board-certified infectious disease specialists in the country. These specialists see more than 7,000 patients each year. The project also co-leads the first trial to test a long-acting injection to prevent HIV in women. Worldwide, more women are living with HIV than men.

Malaria and Zika

Malaria, although eradicated from the US in 1951, is a major global health risk and one of the top three killers of children worldwide. UNC Zika studies in Nicaragua have led to changes in clinical care guidelines worldwide.

UNC researchers are working to help lessen the burden of these diseases through prevention and treatment, improving the health of the world’s poorest populations by increasing their understanding of the infectious diseases that impact them most.

The UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases has nearly 90 affiliated faculty members, and strong, sustainable programs spanning four continents. The IGHID is continues to have a substantial impact on the health of people in North Carolina and around the world. You can too.

To learn more about how you can support our global health efforts, please contact:

Mary Margaret Carroll, Senior Executive Director of Development
919.843.8443 or mcarroll@med.unc.edu

The mission of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases is to harness the full resources of the University and its partners to solve global health problems, reduce the burden of disease, and cultivate the next generation of global health leaders.

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