Health – of individuals, communities and nations – is a global matter. So says Professor Peter Byass, Director of the Forte Centre for Global Health Research at Umeå University. Health also can’t be separated from history, geography, gender, politics and economics, making it a truly multidisciplinary domain.
The Forte Centre established in Umeå in 2007 is based at the Unit for Epidemiology and Global Health, which grew up around a number of international research projects and collaborations dating from the 1980s, under the leadership of Professor Stig Wall.
The world continues to be a fundamentally unequal place – including inequalities in the ways that people’s health is recorded. Thus we know much less about the health of poorer people.
Long-standing research collaborations at Umeå have involved developing extensive field databases to fill some of these knowledge gaps, often in collaboration with the INDEPTH Network (www.indepth-network.org). The Unit’s well-established international Master of Public Health and PhD programmes continue to build considerable professional capacity for this around the world.
Asked “What is Global Health?”, Peter Byass takes a very inclusive viewpoint. “Sweden and Scandinavia are just as much part of the globe as anywhere else!”, he says, “and we are interested in the health of people everywhere, from Arctic reindeer herders to African subsistence farmers – and affluent city-dwellers”.
The new challenges of climate change for human health form part of the Centre’s research agenda. As accredited participants within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (www.unfccc.int), Umeå researchers are engaging with policy makers on the health consequences of possible changes in climate.
At the same time, the Centre works closely with international agencies such as the World Health Organization (www.who.int), contributing scientific expertise in specialised fields such as cause-of-death determination and the global burden of pregnancy-related mortality.
“Being supported as a Forte Centre is very important for our work,” explains Peter Byass. “It provides resources which we can use in a catalytic way to generate project funding from external sources such as the European Union.” The Centre’s productivity in terms of published papers is also increasing substantially year-on-year.
Making research findings available to other researchers and policy makers globally is also a challenge which the Umeå Centre is addressing.
“Many institutions around the world simply cannot afford subscriptions to access research results that are not made freely available,” points out Peter Byass.
For that reason, in 2008 the Centre launched an ambitious new open-access journal, Global Health Action (www.globalhealthaction.net), which has now successfully published a wide range of work and is listed in all the major science research indexes.
Chief Editor Stig Wall says, “Anyone, anywhere can freely access what we publish, via the internet – this is a huge advance for global health”.
The Forte Umeå Centre for Global Health Research has an exciting future ahead, bringing rigorous research methods to bear on fundamental issues for human life and health around the world.
More details of the Centre’s work can be found at www.globalhealthresearch.net, and specific enquiries directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Forte centre funding: SEK 5.5 million annually