SPH Leaders Visit Bangladesh to Explore Collaborations

Dean Martin Philbert in Bangladesh
Martin Philbert and SPH colleagues visit Bagdumur, a rural village.

Poverty, infant mortality, and chronic health issues are just some of the issues in Bangla-desh that SPH researchers hope to address with research partnerships. A group of leaders were in the South Asian nation last month to explore collaborative opportunities.

There are now more than 90 SPH faculty working in 75 countries around the world.

"The visit to Bangladesh was a study in contrasts," says SPH Dean Martin Philbert, a professor of toxicology. "Undeniable poverty and its consequences were counterbalanced by the creation and implementation of innovative solutions aimed at the sustainable improvement of health and well-being for the most vulnerable in society." Philbert and SPH faculty members Matthew L. Boulton, Mousumi Banerjee, and Elizabeth King visited urban and rural clinics and the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research in Bangladesh. They examined pressing public health issues like maternal and child health, rising chronic health problems, and the need for a cancer registry.

The group also met with various nonprofit organizations including BRAC, the world's largest nongovernmental development organization dedicated to empowering people living in poverty. Last year BRAC's founder, Sir Fazle Abed Hasan, received U-M's Thomas Francis Jr. Medal in Global Public Health for his leadership of the organization. SPH has had deep international ties since the early 1970s, when the school started its global partnerships. There are now more than 90 SPH faculty working in 75 countries around the world.

 Bangladeshi mothers

 discussing vaccination

While maternal and infant mortality have been a focus for many health organizations in Bangladesh, malnutrition and lack of timely vaccination also affect maternal and child health, says Boulton, senior associate dean for global public health at SPH and professor of epidemiology, global public health, and health management and policy.

With high population density, many environmental challenges such as groundwater contamination and flooding are becoming a grave concern for the world's eighth-most populous nation, he says. "There are tremendous opportunities for SPH global scholars to collaborate with health organizations in Bangladesh," says Boulton. "We have a long-standing commitment to assist our international partners in building public health infrastructure, data collection, analysis, and research."

The team also visited Bagdumur, a village outside of the capital Dhaka. The village has been adopted by Moushumi Khan, a graduate of the U-M Law School. Khan gave up a thriving law career to work in the village in memory of her father Abdul Majid Khan, who grew up in Bagdumur and was an alum of U-M's College of Engineering. Khan's organization, Foundation for Charitable Activities, in Bangladesh is striving to turn Bagdumur into a smart village with clean energy, sustainable health, and livelihood needs.

Banerjee and Philbert in a Dhaka clinic

 discussing public health initiatives in the capital.

Helping her in this quest is Banerjee, a research professor of biostatistics at SPH, who conducted the first public health survey of the village to better understand the health needs of its residents. "In a country like Bangladesh, there are tremendous public health needs, and a little investment goes a long way," Banerjee says. "We can make a real difference in people's lives."

—Mandira Banerjee, Michigan News