SPH Partners with Thailand

SPH Partners with Thailand

A Memorandum of Understanding formalizes collaborative research and teaching.

In June, SPH Dean Martin Philbert, together with Laura Rozek, associate professor of environmental sciences and associate director of the SPH Office of Global Public Health, led a delegation to Thailand where they presented a two-day workshop with faculty from Thailand's Prince of Songla University (PSU), addressing tobacco policy, population health, and cancer. Following the symposium, Philbert signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Chusak Limsakul, PSU president and dean of the faculty of medicine, formalizing ties between the two institutions.

"This MOU will enhance training opportunities for students and encourage ongoing research collaborations," said Philbert. "It really is a bi-directional collaboration—things we can learn from each other."

Rozek has been working with researchers in Thailand since 2011 and now has three major studies in the country—including a collaboration with Hutcha Sriplung, founder of the Thai Cancer Information Network and an associate professor at PSU. Rozek has also developed a student internship program that's entering its third year.

"Thailand is going through this epidemiologic transition where they have increased life expectancy due to improved health, better treatment and control of infectious disease, and better maternal and child outcomes, but increasing chronic disease—cancer and diabetes," says Rozek. "I'd like to see us establish population-based studies of chronic disease that take into account Thailand's surveillance system and universal health care."

"And we definitely want students from both countries engaged in the research," adds Philbert. "They are the future for global public health collaborations at Michigan and in Thailand."
—Terri Mellow

Q: What does it take to change the world?
A: Adaptability—at both the organizational and individual level.

"Organizations have to be adaptable in order to identify and capture nontraditional funding sources to support global health work and to carry out nontraditional projects. It's not enough to just do research—you have to translate that research and implement it in the field. To do that, you need to be flexible.

"It's true at the individual level, too. You need to be able to walk into highly fluid situations and get things done. Back in 2006, I was visiting China for the first time and had it in my head that SPH should connect with the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So I used my connections with the U.S. CDC to get an audience with the director of the Tianjin CDC. That meeting ultimately led to a Memorandum of Understanding between SPH and several regional Chinese CDCs as well as the central CDC in Beijing.

"It may sound intuitive, but to do global work, you have to be able to see—and actualize—opportunity. You have to learn to see the potential and marshall it in an organized way. Where can we build a presence? Who do we partner with? What is it that we do? That's a challenge no matter where you're working—recognizing where you can establish something meaningful, where you can build institutional broad-based platforms. You have to think about sustainable platforms that provide a durable foundation, because faculty come and go. You need critical mass of people and interest and a diversity of partnerships."
—Matthew Boulton

Matthew Boulton, MD, MPH '91, is the senior associate dean for global public health at U-M SPH and a professor of epidemiology, health management and policy, preventive medicine, and internal medicine