U-M public health leaders visit Bangladesh to explore collaborations
Written by Mandira Banerjee
ANN ARBOR—Poverty, infant mortality and chronic health issues are just some of the issues in Bangladesh that researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health hope to address with research partnerships.
A group of researchers were in the South Asian nation last month to explore collaborative opportunities.
“The visit to Bangladesh was a study in contrasts,” said SPH Dean Martin Philbert, a professor of toxicology. “Undeniable poverty and its consequences was 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 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, its founder, Sir Fazle Abed Hasan, received U-M’s Thomas Francis Jr. Medal in Global Public Health for his leadership of BRAC.
The School of Public Health has had deep international ties since the early 1970s when the school started its global partnerships. There are now more than 90 faculty working in 75 countries around the world.
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, said Matthew Boulton, senior associate dean for global public health at SPH and professor of epidemiology, global public health and preventive medicine.
With high population density, many environmental challenges such as groundwater contamination and flooding are becoming a grave concern for the world’s 8th-most populous nation, he said.
“There are tremendous opportunities for SPH global scholars to collaborate with health organizations in Bangladesh,” Boulton said. “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.
Helping her in the 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,” she said. “We can make a real difference in people’s lives.”