The Rutgers Global Health Institute, part of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey – A New Venture Designed to Improve Health and Wellness Globally
Author: Gail S. Thornton, M.A.
Co-Editor: The VOICES of Patients, Hospital CEOs, HealthCare Providers, Caregivers and Families: Personal Experience with Critical Care and Invasive Medical Procedures
The newly formed Rutgers Global Health Institute, part of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey (http://rbhs.rutgers.edu/), represents a new way of thinking by providing positive health outcomes to potential patients around the world affected by disease and/or by a negative environmental impact. The goal of the Institute is three-fold:
- to improve the health and wellness of individuals and populations around the world,
- to create a healthier world through innovation, engineering, and technology, and
- to educate involved citizens and effective leaders in global health.
Richard G. Marlink, M.D., a former Harvard University professor recognized internationally for research and leadership in the fight against AIDS, was recently appointed as the inaugural Henry Rutgers Professor of Global Health and Director of the Rutgers Global Health Institute.
The Rutgers Global Health Institute was formed last year after research by the University into the most significant health issues affecting under-served and under-developed populations. While conducting research for its five-year strategic plan, the RBHS looked for bold and ambitious ways that they could take advantage of the changing health care environment and band together to tackle the world’s leading health and environmental causes, contributing to the betterment of society. One of the results was the formation of the Rutgers Global Health Institute, supporting cross-functionally Rutgers faculty, scientists, and clinicians who represent the best in their respective fields of health innovation, research and patient care related to global health.
More broadly, the RBHS, created in 2013, is one of the nation’s leading – and largest — academic health centers that provides health care education, research and clinical service and care. It is an umbrella organization that encompasses eight schools – Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, New Jersey Medical School, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, School of Health Professions, School of Nursing and School of Public Health.
In addition, the RBHS encompasses six centers and institutes that provide cancer treatment and research, neuroscience, advanced biotechnology and medicine, environmental and occupational health and health care policy and aging research. Those centers and institutes are the Brain Health Institute, Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, and Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Research. And lastly, the RBHS includes the University Behavioral Health Care.
Image SOURCE: Photograph courtesy of the Rutgers Global Health Institute, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Below is my interview with the Inaugural Henry Rutgers Professor of Global Health and Director of the Rutgers Global Health Institute Richard G. Marlink, M.D., which occurred in April, 2017.
You were recently appointed as the inaugural Henry Rutgers Professor of Global Health and Director of the new Rutgers Global Health Institute at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS). What are the goals of the new Institute?
Dr. Marlink: The overarching goal of the Rutgers Global Health Institute is to improve the health and wellness of individuals and populations in need both here and around the world, to create a healthier world through innovation, engineering, and technology, and to educate involved citizens and effective leaders in global health. We will do that by building on the aspiration of our originating organization — RBHS, which is to be recognized as one of the best academic health centers in the U.S., known for its education, research, clinical care, and commitment to improving access to health care and reducing health care disparities.
As the newly formed Rutgers Global Health Institute, we are embarking on an ambitious agenda to take advantage of the changing health care environment. Working across schools and disciplines at Rutgers University, we plan to have a significant impact within at least four signature programs identified by RBHS, which are cancer, environmental and occupational health, infection and inflammation, and public health. We also will include all other parts of Rutgers, as desired, beyond RBHS.
My background as a global health researcher, physician, and leader of grassroots health care delivery will help develop programs to undertake global health initiatives that assist populations locally and around the world. I believe that involved citizens, including students, can greatly impact major societal issues.
A key role in the strategic growth of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences – an umbrella organization for eight schools, four centers and institutes and a behavioral health network — is to broaden the Rutgers University’s presence in the public health community globally to improve health and wellness. How will the new Rutgers Global Health Institute be part of this growth?
Dr. Marlink: Our RBHS Chancellor Brian Strom [M.D., M.P.H.] believes that we are positioned to become one of the finest research universities in the country, working cross-functionally with our three campuses in Newark, Camden and New Brunswick. In developing the strategic plan, Dr. Strom notes that we become much stronger and more capable and productive by leveraging our strengths to collaborate and working together across disciplines to best serve the needs of our community locally and globally.
Specifically, we are formulating plans to focus on these areas: old and new infectious disease epidemics; the expanding burden of noncommunicable diseases in poor populations; the social and environmental threats to health, poverty and humanitarian crises; and inadequate local and developing country health systems. We will support the development of global health research programs university-wide, the recruitment of faculty with interests in global health, and the creation of a web-based global health resource center for faculty and students with interests in these areas.
We are still a very young part of RBHS, and of Rutgers overall, so our plans are a work in progress. As tangible examples of our commitment to improving health and wellness globally, we plan to enhance global public health by establishing links between global public health and environmental and occupational health faculty in studies related to air pollution, climate change, and pesticide health.
Another example the Institute has in the works is expanding links with the School of Engineering. In fact, we are creating a senior-level joint faculty position with the School of Engineering and Rutgers-New Brunswick. Still other plans involve forging collaborative relationships between the Rutgers Cancer Program, under the auspices of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, which is New Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center, and other organizations and partners around the world, especially in poor and less-developed countries.
How is the Rutgers Global Health Institute strategically prepared for changing the health care paradigm?
Dr. Marlink: We intend to be an international global health leader in the health sciences, in public health, and in other related, but non-biomedical professions. This means that we will incorporate our learnings from laboratory sciences and the clinical, behavioral, and public health sciences, as well as from engineering, business, economics, law, and social sciences. This broad approach is critical in this health care environment as accountability for patient care is shifting to large groups of providers. Health care will be more value-driven and our health care teams must work collaboratively to be innovative. Our focus on health care is now also population-based, rather than only individual-based, and we are moving from large regional centers toward community centers, even in small and remote areas of the world. We are encouraged by rapid changes in technology that will provide new opportunities for shared knowledge, patient care and research.
Additionally, we are exploring ways to identify and recruit key faculty who will increase our breadth and depth of key disease areas as well as provide guidance on how to pursue science grants from the National Institute of Health (NIH)-funded program project grants and specialized research programs.
Currently, Rutgers University receives NIH funding for research in public health, population health, health promotion, wellness, health behavior, preventive medicine, and global health.
As a researcher, scholar and leader of grassroots health care delivery, how have your past positions prepared you for this new challenge? Your last position was the Bruce A. Beal, Robert L. Beal, and Alexander S. Beal Professor of the Practice of Public Health at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Executive Director of the Harvard AIDS Initiative.
Dr. Marlink: I have been a global health practitioner, researcher, and executive leader for almost three decades. I am trained in medical oncology and HIV medicine and have conducted clinical, epidemiological and implementation research in Africa since 1985. I was first introduced to global health when finishing my Hematology/Oncology fellowship at what is now the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in the mid-1980’s in Boston.
During my Hematology/Oncology fellowship and after the co-organizing the first, hospital-based AIDS care clinic in the New England region, I was trying to learn the ropes in virology and molecular biology in the laboratory group of Max Essex at Harvard University. During that time in the mid-1980s, our laboratory group along with Senegalese and French collaborators discovered the first evidence for the existence of a new human retrovirus, HIV-2, a distinct second type of human AIDS virus, with its apparent origins in West Africa.
As a clinician, I was able to assist in Senegal, helping set up clinical care and create a research cohort in Dakar for hundreds of women sex workers infected with this new human retrovirus and care for them and their families. I discovered that a little can go a long way in poor settings, such as in Senegal. I became hooked on helping create solutions to help people in poor settings in Africa and elsewhere. Long-term partnerships and friendships have subsequently been made in many developing countries. Throughout my career, I have built successful partnerships with many governments, companies, and non-profit organizations, and those relationships have been the foundation to build successful public health partnerships in poor regions of the world.
In the 1990s, I helped create the Botswana-Harvard Partnership for HIV Research and Education (BHP). Through this partnership, the Government of Botswana and BHP have worked together to combat the AIDS epidemic in Botswana. Under my direction, and in partnership with the Botswana Ministry of Health, BHP launched the KITSO AIDS Training Program in 1999. Kitso is the Setswana word for ‘knowledge.”
KITSO is the national training program for physicians, nurses, and pharmacists, which has trained more than 14,000 health professionals in HIV/AIDS care and antiretroviral treatment. KITSO training modules address issues, such as antiretroviral therapy, HIV/AIDS-related disease management, gender-specific HIV issues, task-sharing, supportive and palliative care, and various psychosocial and counseling themes.
In addition, I was the Botswana County Director for Harvard Chan School’s 3-country President’s Emergency Plan AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) grant, The Botswana PEPFAR effort includes a Clinical and Laboratory Master Training Program and the creation of the Botswana Ministry of Health’s Monitoring and Evaluation Unit. Concurrently, I was the Principal Investigator of Project HEART in five African countries with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Also in Botswana, in 2000, I was a co-founder of a distinct partnership involving a large commitment to the Government of Botswana from the Bill and Melinda Gates and Merck Foundations. This commitment continues as an independent non-governmental organization (NGO) to provide support for various AIDS prevention and care efforts in Botswana and the region.
All these global health experiences, it seems, have led me to my new role at the Rutgers Global Health Institute.
What is your advice for ways that the business community or university students can positively impact major societal issues?
Dr. Marlink: My advice is to be optimistic and follow that desire to want to make a difference. Margaret Mead, the American cultural anthropologist, said years ago, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I believe that to be our guiding principle as we embark on this new initiative.
I also believe that students should become specialized in specific areas prior to going fully into “global health,” as they develop in their careers, since they will then add more value later. For example, students should be grounded in the theory of global health in their undergraduate studies and then develop a specialization, such as becoming a statistician, economist, or medical doctor, to make a longer and greater impact in improving global health. As for the business community, we are looking for committed individuals who are specialized in specific areas to bring their knowledge to our organization, as partners in the fight against disease, improving the environment, or helping with humanitarian issues. We are committed to improving health and wellness, increasing access to the best health care, and reducing health disparities.
What is it about your current role that you enjoy the most?
Dr. Marlink: I enjoy building research, learning, and clinical programs, as I have in the HIV arena since the early 1980s. At that time, there were limited resources and funding, but a willingness among universities, non-governmental organizations, hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry to make a difference. Today in my new role, I’d like all of us to have an impact on health and wellness for those in need – to build programs from the ground up while partnering with organizations with the same goal in mind. I know it can be done.
Over my career, when I have a patient here or in a developed country who has been diagnosed with cancer, but is cured or in remission, that puts a huge smile on my face and in my heart. It also impacts you for the rest of your life. Or when I see an infant born without HIV because of the local country programs that are put in place, that also makes me feel so fulfilled, so happy.
I have worked with many talented individuals who have become great friends and partners over my career who have helped create a positive life for under-served populations around the world. We need to remember that progress happens with one person at a time or one program at a time. That’s how you truly improve health around the world.
Image SOURCE: Photograph of Inaugural Henry Rutgers Professor of Global Health and Director of the Rutgers Global Health Institute at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, courtesy of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Richard G. Marlink, M.D.
Inaugural Henry Rutgers Professor of Global Health
Director of the Rutgers Global Health Institute
Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences
Richard G. Marlink, M.D., a Harvard University professor recognized internationally for research and leadership in the fight against AIDS, was recently appointed as the inaugural Henry Rutgers Professor of Global Health and Director of a new Rutgers Global Health Institute at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS). His role is to develop the strategic growth of RBHS by broadening the Rutgers University’s presence in the public health community to improve health and wellness.
Previously, Dr. Marlink was the Bruce A. Beal, Robert L. Beal, and Alexander S. Beal Professor of the Practice of Public Health at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Executive Director of the Harvard AIDS Initiative.
At the start of the AIDS epidemic, Dr. Marlink was instrumental in setting up the first, hospital-based HIV/AIDS clinic in Boston, Massachusetts, and studied the impact of the HIV virus in west and central Africa. After helping to start the Botswana-Harvard Partnership in 1996, he founded the Kitso AIDS Training Program, which would become Botswana’s national AIDS training program. Kitso means knowledge in the local Setswana language.
Dr. Marlink was the principal investigator for the Tshepo Study, the first large-scale antiretroviral treatment study in Botswana, in addition to conducting other clinical and epidemiological studies in the region. Also in Botswana, he was the country director for Harvard’s contribution to the joint Botswana and United States governments’ HIV/AIDS and TB training, monitoring and evaluation PEPFAR effort.
In the mid-1980s in Senegal, Dr. Marlink was part of the team of Senegalese, French and American researchers who discovered and then studied the second type of human AIDS virus, HIV-2. Since then, he has been involved in multiple HIV/AIDS care, treatment and prevention programs in many African countries, including in Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. He has also organized initiatives to enhance HIV/AIDS care in Brazil, Puerto Rico and Thailand.
Dr. Marlink has served as the scientific director, the vice president for implementation and the senior adviser for medical and scientific affairs at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, where he was principal investigator of Project HEART, a five-country CDC/PEPFAR effort in Africa. That project began in 2004 and by 2011 had placed more than 1 million people living with HIV into care clinics. More than 565,000 of these people were placed on life-saving antiretroviral treatment.
Since 2000, Dr. Marlink has been the founding member of the board of directors of the African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnerships, a public-partnership among the government of Botswana and the Bill and Melinda Gates and Merck Foundations to provide ongoing support for numerous HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment efforts in that country.
He has authored or co-authored more than 130 scientific articles; written a textbook, Global AIDS Crisis: A Reference Handbook; and co-edited the book, AIDS in Africa, 2nd Edition. Additionally, he served as chief editor for two special supplements to the journal AIDS and as executive editor of the seminal 320-author, three-volume textbook, From the Ground Up: A Guide to Building Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Care Programs in Resource Limited Settings.
A trained fellow in hematology/oncology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Marlink received his medical degree from the University of New Mexico and his bachelor’s degree from Brown University.
We would like to thank Marilyn DiGiaccobe, head of Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives, at the Rutgers Global Health Institute, for the help and support she provided during this interview.
Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (http://rbhs.rutgers.edu/)
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