Title:Q&A with Global Health Institute founders

Author: Jane Varner Malhotra
Date Published: September 27, 2022
John Monahan (C’83, L’87), senior advisor to President John J. DeGioia, and Sheila McMullan (G’99, L’08)
Photo: Phil Humnicky

In July 2022, Georgetown began announcing plans for the launch of the Global Health Institute. We spoke with two of its founding leaders, John Monahan (C’83, L’87), senior advisor to President John J. DeGioia, and Sheila McMullan (G’99, L’08), managing director of the Global Health Initiative, which began in 2017.

How did the idea for a Global Health Institute come about?

John: We have many individual people working in global health at Georgetown, but we wanted to create a university-wide connected community. The last five years with the Global Health Initiative—with the vital leadership of President DeGioia, Edward Healton, and Thomas Banchoff—has been proof of concept for how we can use our collective resources to make a difference in the world.

What are some of the activities and opportunities around global health?

John: We’ve sponsored many student-facing events and created opportunities for students to work on global health projects. The signature piece has been a university-wide Global Health Initiative Fellows program, a mentored research opportunity for students. There’s a lot of interest and it’s competitive—this year we had 90 applicants for 15 spots.

On the faculty-facing side we’ve created a grant program to support research, with innovative projects in global health and collaboration across disciplines.

We’ve had the Director General of the World Health Organization speak at Gaston Hall, and a Zoom interview early in the pandemic with Anthony Fauci. We convened a conference in 2017 on pandemic preparedness with Professor Rebecca Katz, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security. A lot of the issues raised turned out to be true, such as a lack of readiness at the senior level of the presidential administration. In 2018 we held a 100-year retrospective on the 1918 flu pandemic, including a presentation from the library archivist who brought out campus infirmary records from 1918. And we continue to lead the global health law community through the exceptional work of University Professor Larry Gostin and his colleagues at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, the world’s premier health law center.

We nurtured this community of faculty, students, and staff that will soon have a permanent home—the Global Health Institute, a structure that creates a place for our regular convening.

Sheila: Most importantly, students have really been impacted by this work. Faculty have been paired with 80 student fellows for these projects, and have made a substantial difference to them. Students have had unique opportunities through the initiative. That’s where we’re going to see the impact for years to come—the experience that students have here is going to translate to how they live and work and continue their studies.

A number of global health experts have joined Georgetown in recent years, right?

John: Yes, we’ve had a number of strategic recruitments: Rebecca Katz and her team, opening the Center for Global Health Science and Security; Mark Dybul, when he returned from leading the Global Fund to create his new center; Deus Bazira, who joined us from the University of Maryland with a group of people who have now built a substantial presence in sub Saharan Africa through the Center for Global Health Practice and Impact; and Charles Holmes, former chief medical officer at the State’s Department’s HIV program who is leading an important center working in Zambia and addressing other health policy issues.

Why is Georgetown the place for this?

John: We’ve known that health outcomes are affected by many things beyond health care, but the pandemic drove this home. Diplomacy, economics, government, the private sector—all of society affects health outcomes.

Georgetown is a place where people have strengths across disciplines. We’re a place where policymakers come to debate and discuss how to address these kinds of complicated cross-cutting issues. This is a moment to look at the global, national, and local ways in which our societies respond to and address health needs, and we are in a place where people can come together across disciplines to answer the hard questions.

The Global Health Institute will be a convening ground to find mechanisms that create real solutions.

Sheila: Looking at global health from the lens of ethics and responsibility gives Georgetown this unique perspective on how we help the world. That’s very different from some of the other universities that are trying to take this on. Georgetown has a strong social justice mission that sets us apart.

How might alumni engage with the Global Health Institute?

Sheila: We are constantly searching for volunteers from the global health community to connect students to internships, full-time employment, and post-graduation mentorship. As we help to prepare the next generation of global health leaders, it’s essential to connect students with alumni to further their exploration of global health.

John: This institute will be a place where we can tap into the expertise and experience of our alumni who are interested in working with Georgetown on future projects, whether they’re looking at particular disease issues, how to communicate in a post-pandemic world, how to think about policy—for all in global health looking for a place to convene with experts, the institute will be that hub.

I am excited about the Global Health Institute. It’s what we have been aiming to do over the last several years, to take these creative ideas and form them into something permanent that’s of service to the world.

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