Study criticizes NYU contributions to global health

Universities Allied For Essential Medicines, an organization of university students who work in medical and public health fields and focus on using academics to promote global health, has recently evaluated top research universities.

The University Global Health Report Card graded 54 research universities in the United States and Canada, including NYU, on their contributions to global health.

NYU received a D-plus on a global health report card from UAEM. This is an average of three grading points: innovation in medical research, level of accessibility to medical breakthroughs and empowerment of next generations of medical pioneers.

NYU received a D-minus on innovation, a B-minus for access and a D for empowerment.

NYU is not the only university to receive a poor grade — 16 other institutions also received a D-plus or lower, while only six received above a C-plus.

“Many universities are providing important clinical care and health systems support in developing countries,” UAEM executive director Bryan Collinsworth said. “But when it comes to researching new treatments and cures for neglected global diseases, our report card finds that they’re falling very short.”

NYU spokesman John Beckman disagreed with UAEM, citing that it used its own criteria to evaluate the universities instead of using a universal standard.

“The relationship between the grade a university receives from this outfit and its actual contribution to global health should be viewed with some skepticism,” Beckman said.

The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, ranked highest, receiving an A-minus.

Jerry Spiegel, director of the UBC global health research program, said the university did well on the report card because of its neglected global disease initiative.

“[The report card’s] attention to neglected disease corresponded to a significant initiative at our university,” he said.

However, Spiegel criticized the narrowness of the report card, citing other dimensions that affect global health other than neglected diseases.

“The report card should either explicitly indicate that it has a particular neglected disease focus, albeit from a ‘global health’ perspective, or should broaden its evaluative criteria to consider and be able to critically assess other dimensions,” Speigel said.

Collinsworth stated that universities play a vital role in global health given that they are nonprofit, publicly funded research institutions.

He advised universities like NYU to improve their global health impact by focusing on rarely researched diseases, such as Chagas disease and dengue fever, and by allowing easier access to life-saving medicine for low and middle-income countries.

Beckman cited NYU’s master’s degree program in global public health, the Global Institute of Public Health and a number of research projects related to international health, including a global colloquium of university presidents held at NYU this past March, as examples of NYU’s contributions to global health.

“While I am sure there is always room for improvement, we respectfully reject the grade,” Beckman said.

CAS freshman Marco Mendez, who is on the pre-med track, said NYU is more likely to devote research toward diseases within the United States, as it would be easier to receive federal funding, but that should not stop them from making attempts to improve.

“I think NYU could channel more funding toward its research efforts,” Mendez said. “The university could also focus more on diseases that affect masses of people outside of the United States.”

A version of this story appeared in the April 16, 2013 print edition. Cristina Cabrera is a contributing writer. Email her at investigative@nyunews.com.

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