The Wisconsin Idea in action:

The Wisconsin Idea guides the Global Health Institute’s mission to collaborate and ensure sustainable health for all.


Emerging infectious diseases. Adequate food and safe water. Access to education. Women’s well-being. Childhood mortality. Biodiversity loss. Climate change. The major public health challenges of our time demand that we reach across disciplines and intentionally collaborate to ensure sustainable health for all—all people, all life, even the planet itself.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Global Health Institute (GHI) builds on an institutional legacy of cross-sector collaboration and community engagement to advance global health. This legacy is defined by the Wisconsin Idea, which suggests the boundaries of the university must expand to include the world, and it pushes GHI to catalyze and convene faculty, staff, students, and practitioners from every discipline and from communities around the world. Together, these partners address how social, medical, economic, political, and environmental factors influence well-being. Through interdisciplinary programs across the educational spectrum and with its history of global outreach, GHI also inspires and trains the next generation of global health practitioners and leaders.

Keith Martin, executive director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health, saw a unique symbiosis at UW-Madison that continues to drive GHI’s success. “Universities have a difficult time breaking down silos,” he said. “(The University of Wisconsin) started with a foundation of cooperation, and you built on it.”

“The Wisconsin Idea is a marvelous template for other institutions, as a foundation on which they can build to reduce siloing and increase cooperation; and, in doing that, everybody will be enriched.”—Keith Martin, executive director, Consortium of Universities for Global Health

From Personal to Planetary

GHI is defined by its commitment to a sustainable model of global health that includes the entire spectrum from personal to environmental to planetary health. The institute is guided by a “global health ethic” that recognizes that individual health is linked to health for all. This ethic  nurtures a respect for community and calls for society to address challenges of such magnitude that progress in alleviating such issues will be measured in generations. It  is inspired by Wisconsin conservationist and UW professor Aldo Leopold, whose famous land ethic reads: “All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.”

“It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to the land can exist without love, respect, and admiration for land and a high regard for its value.”—Aldo Leopold

The One Health model—recognizing the health of humans, animals, and the ecosystems we all share are interdependent—provides a framework that brings together human health care with other disciplines to address complex challenges across sectors. This fundamental belief in the interconnectedness of health and disease, locally and globally—and the university’s obligation to take on these challenges—has been part of UW-Madison’s global health enterprise since the late 1990s. “Globalization, migration, and widespread health disparities call for interdisciplinary approaches to improve health care at home and abroad,” a team of UW global health pioneers reflected in the February 2008 issue of Academic Medicine. “Our academic institutions have the potential to serve as portals to introduce students to the great health disparities and challenges of our times, and to prepare faculty and students to address urgent health needs at home and abroad.”

The One Health concept brings human health and veterinary medicine students together on projects that benefit all. Here, medical students distribute dog wormer in Ecuador.

Why UW-Madison?

GHI’s mission to bring the energy of the whole university to bear on global health challenges is rooted in the Wisconsin Idea, which aims to put education and research at the service of improving quality of life in Wisconsin and across the world. It’s manifest in the university’s acknowledged role in establishing the state’s dairy industry and discovering and applying Vitamin D for health. It pushed the university to establish the Division of University Extension to share knowledge across the state—seven years before the federal government founded the Cooperative Extension. Today, the commitment to multi-sector collaboration can be found in some of the campus’s pre-eminent initiatives, including the Wisconsin Energy Institute, the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies— and the Global Health Institute.

This is a public land-grant university with more than 43,000 students, 21,000 faculty and staff, the fifth-highest research expenditures in the nation, and the highest number of Peace Corps volunteers. The roots of its collaborative culture can be found in a late-1800s decision to incorporate the more practical land-grant colleges into the existing University of Wisconsin instead of following other states to establish separate land-grant institutions. That decision brings together 21 schools, colleges, and institutes—including medicine and public health, agriculture and life sciences, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, nursing, law, engineering, arts and sciences, human ecology, and business—on a single, central campus.

Members of widely different academic disciplines work side by side, take advantage of intentional meetings, and enjoy the advantage of serendipitous encounters that spark new ideas and remarkable cross-sector collaboration. “By the 21st century when interdisciplinarity has become so important, this decision seems like genius,” Gwen Drury wrote. “In reality, it was probably just a frugal measure at the time.”

Our history

The earliest discussions about formalizing UW-Madison’s global health activities grew out of student interest in international experiences, faculty and staff desire to expand international health programs, and the university plan to accelerate internationalization. Leaders from medicine, pharmacy, nursing, veterinary medicine, and international studies saw the potential for a global health center that would address health disparities through lasting interdisciplinary collaborations, producing benefits for all. The Center for Global Health (CGH), established in 2005, morphed into the Global Health Institute after the university’s reaccreditation study reaffirmed that interdisciplinary research is “at the creative center of UW-Madison’s mission” and necessary to confront complex challenges.

GHI Director Jonathan Patz, a global climate and health expert, brings together disciplines from across campus and the world to improve health for all. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Organized in 2011, GHI was designed to consolidate campus-wide global health efforts beyond—and including—the traditional health sciences programs. It served the goals of the reaccreditation report that called for promoting and supporting interdisciplinary research, fostering global proficiencies for students, and working on the cutting edge of global issues—“not only in expanding our understanding of our changing world, but also in connecting this understanding to decision making, public policy, and real-world practice. More than nearly any other university, our faculty, staff, and students are personally dedicated to pushing the frontiers of interdisciplinary research, and to using this new knowledge to make the world a better place.”

In this purposeful, campus-wide expansion, GHI’s charter called for the institute “to discover underlying determinants of global health, no matter the complexity, and in so doing, attain more lasting solutions within and across populations.”

The institute was the first of its kind in the nation to focus on the root determinants of health from across multiple sectors. It connects collaborators through its programs and relationships, and encourages interdisciplinary projects through its Seed Grant program, designed to provide start-up dollars for projects that can then be more competitive for outside funding.

“Too many of our global health interventions are narrowly focused, and, as we try to solve one problem, we inadvertently can create two or three more,” says environment and health pioneer Jonathan Patz, M.D., MPH, who became GHI director in 2011. “This responsibility takes an orchestrated effort. So we are bringing together faculty, staff, and students from across campus to address the health implications of climate change, urban design, air quality, water safety, food security, gender inequality, access to care, and more. We want our approach to disease prevention to be as comprehensive as possible.”

In connecting internationally-recognized scholars and practitioners with communities in Wisconsin and across the world, GHI recognizes that health issues transcend national boundaries and that local partnerships bring critical wisdom to the search for solutions.

“Only they who are on the ground, living the challenges and understanding what really goes on in their location will have any clue how we might be able to help.”—Jonathan Patz

For researchers such as Jeremy Foltz, Ph.D., a professor of agricultural and applied economics and GHI grant recipient, the institute is crucial to making connections. “These are big issues with a lot of intellectual moving parts,” he said. “What’s important is the ability to be able to access other bits of knowledge on this campus and do joint projects. The promise of GHI is to bring everybody in.”

Educational Excellence

The global interest of students, faculty, and staff, and the collaborative nature of the university have allowed GHI to create interdisciplinary and inter-professional educational opportunities, from the Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health (offered with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences) and Graduate/Professional/Capstone Certificate (offered with the School of Medicine and Public Health’s Department of Population Health Sciences) to opportunities in graduate medical education and for health care professionals. “UW-GHI (educational) programs emphasize interdisciplinary inquiry, place-based study, and immersion learning through required faculty-mentored global health field experiences,” wrote Lori DiPrete Brown, MSPH, MTS., GHI associate director for education and engagement, in a 2014 Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics article. “This interdisciplinary integration occurs in core and elective courses as well as the field experiences, with the undergraduate program including the various college majors, and the graduate program bringing together the health science professions.”

From 2007 to 2016, more than 160 students, from fields as diverse as health professions, engineering, French studies, and nutritional sciences, earned a Graduate/Professional/Capstone Certificate in Global Health. Since 2010, more than 1,000 students, pursuing 62 majors in seven schools and colleges, earned the undergraduate certificate, which is similar to a minor. Global health has become the largest certificate program on campus, now with more than 500 students participating each year. More than 1,200 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate/professional students have participated in global health field experiences that include faculty-led courses, internships, clerkships, and independent field studies.

In field courses, students collaborate with communities on projects that will improve health. Here, they help gather mud that will be used to make plaster for a school’s walls.

The education program, with its international field courses, was foundational to UW-Madison’s global health mission and “mobilized interdisciplinary groups around the goals of promoting health for all,” according to Cindy Haq, M.D., a professor of Family Medicine and Population Health Sciences as well as the center’s inaugural director. Those resulting collaborations improved nutrition in Uganda, bettered animal health and addressed domestic violence in Mexico, examined successful public health projects in Thailand, and much more.

 Collaborating for health care quality and innovation

With deep roots in the health sciences, GHI has been central to initiatives that are improving access to health care and improving the quality of that care. The strength of our health care projects lies in the internationally-recognized researchers and practitioners in the UW-Madison global health community and their strong networks of local and international collaborators.

Thanks to a GHI grant, Aracelli Alonso worked with these Kenyan women to establish Health by Motorbike. (Photo by Aracelli Alonso.)

These UW experts provide technical assistance, facilitate joint learning, and spur innovations through education, training, and quality improvement programs. An emergency room physician, for example, used a GHI Seed Grant to work with clinicians, educators, researchers, and IT professionals to develop a mobile telephone app that lets South African emergency room physicians quickly access the location-specific information they need. A pediatric infectious disease specialist works with local leaders to improve immunization programs in Nepal, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda. A world-renowned palliative care leader is on the front lines to secure needed opioids for pain relief among world populations, and an obstetrician/gynecologist collaborates with local partners in Ethiopia and Wisconsin to give women in low-resource settings a range of contraceptive choices, including long-acting reversible contraceptives.

Girma Tefera, M.D., a professor in the UW-Madison Department of Surgery and an Ethiopian native, laid the groundwork for extensive, ongoing projects through a bilateral twinning agreement between UW-Madison and Addis Ababa University. The work expanded from emergency medicine to family medicine to pediatrics. Residency programs, quality improvement initiatives, and training for numerous health care workers resulted from these collaborative efforts. GHI leveraged Tefera’s network to expand Ethiopian collaborations with air quality, city improvement, and energy projects. Still others are maximizing hydropower and introducing healthy, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes to farmers.

Tefera welcomes the expanding collaborations in his homeland.

“Health is not only giving medicines and vaccines. People also need to be able to eat right. You need clean water and clean air to breathe. The list is fairly long. … That’s why everybody needs to chip in.”—Girma Tefera, UW surgeon

Each year, GHI brings its health care community together to work with international health care leaders during the Quality Improvement (QI) and Leadership Institute. In six years, 111 participants from 16 countries have worked with each other and UW-Madison faculty, staff, and students to initiate or improve health-related in their home countries.

Connecting place, health, environment

As a climate and health pioneer, GHI Director Patz is a leading global voice connecting climate change and health and recognizing the health opportunities that come from limiting fossil fuels. His work brings together engineers, air pollution experts, health and environmental scientists, and local partners to bring theory to practice and positively affect climate policy worldwide.

The UniverCity Alliance, co-founded by GHI, works to foster sustainable, livable cities across the globe. In Ethiopia, teams are reclaiming Bahir Dar’s bicycling culture, addressing air pollution in Addis Ababa, and bringing electrical microgrids to rural villages. In Guadalajara, Mexico, collaborators are working with a new environmental science museum that will explicitly connect the city to the landscapes surrounding it and give people ideas that can better inform their behavior choices. UniverCity Alliance is also making the local-to-global connection. This year the initiative launched its first UniverCity Year project with Monona, Wisconsin, bringing students from a dozen university courses to work on city priorities. Plans are underway to scale up UniverCity Year throughout the state.

Connecting Women and Well-being in Wisconsin and the World

The 4W (Women and Well-being in Wisconsin and the World) Initiative, co-convened by GHI, brings together leaders from gender and women’s studies, Afro-American studies, law, human ecology, medicine and public health, engineering, nursing, education, and more. Led by GHI’s   DiPrete Brown, the initiative is grounded in human-rights principles and works toward equal rights for women and girls through recognizing the role that women play in sustaining families, communities, civil society, economies, and the planet. 4W’s initial projects are contributing to the end of human trafficking, establishing equality for women and men in relationships, using motorbikes to deliver health care to rural African women, and supporting microenterprise.

4W also was key in the establishment of the UNESCO Chair on Gender, Well-being and a Culture of Peace at UW-Madison. The chair creates a global platform for 4W and underscores the university’s interdisciplinary ethic that allows faculty, staff, and students to engage with complex issues from many perspectives.

Collaborating for One Health

GHI has, since its inception, embraced the One Health framework, as veterinary medicine experts and human health researchers, educators, and clinicians shaped the institute. The outbreaks of the Ebola and Zika viruses dramatically underlined the essential importance of understanding the animal/human interface for infectious diseases. These recent epidemics catalyzed the whole of campus, joining researchers in epidemiology, pathology, pathobiology, obstetrics, environmental health, and medical history with health practitioners and the capabilities of the UW insectarium (co-funded by GHI) and the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. Together, they worked on solutions, from potential vaccines to mosquito control to a documentary that gave a human face to the Ebola crisis in Liberia.

GHI also will be closely aligned with the new Upper Midwestern Center for Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases, funded by a $10 million Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant and headed by two members of the GHI Advisory committee.

A GHI Seed Grant gave a scientist and humanities scholar resources to explore water quality and behavior that influence it at Lake Victoria. (Photo by Jessica Corman.)

Looking to the future

“The university role today (in global health) is more important than ever, particularly in the communication of the problem, the communication of the solution, and having the ability to build capacity and engage in service,” CUGH’s Martin said. “The advantage will be with those who embrace evidence-based solutions to make countries safer, freer, and more vibrant with people who are safe and secure. It’s a race to the top.”

More than ever, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute recognizes the unending challenges in improving the health and well-being of the planet and the life it supports. With its roots in the Wisconsin Idea and Leopold’s land ethic, GHI demonstrates how a leading public university can bring disciplines together from across campus to collaborate, rather than compete, for the social good. This model develops and supports education, research and partnerships in Wisconsin and across the world, giving students the tools to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world, opening mutually beneficial relationships with communities, and furthering science that will lead to new solutions. The path to the future lies in leveraging and fostering new and existing networks across campus, within countries, and among academic institutions, connecting ideas and action for the good of us all.

 By Ann Grauvogl/ March 28, 2017


This article is based on previous papers by UW-Madison global health leaders:

Vandana Shiva keynotes 2017 4W Summit

Listen to Vandana Shiva’s keynote address.

Vandana Shiva will deliver the keynote lecture at the 4W Summit.

A Time magazine environmental hero and one of Forbes seven most powerful women on the globe, Vandana Shiva, Ph.D., delivers the keynote address on April 27 for this year’s 4W Summit on Women, Gender and Well-being. Her presentation, which is free and open to the public, also serves as this year’s J. Jobe and Marguerite Jacqmin Soffa Lecture sponsored by the Human Rights Program.

Diverse and inclusive gender perspectives and environmental sustainability are core themes of this year’s 4W Summit, says 4W Director Lori DiPrete Brown, who is also associate director at the UW-Madison Global Health Institute. “Vandana Shiva has been a leading voice in these fields for many years. She offers a true, feminist challenge to so many of the conservations about sustainability, privileging and the quantitative knowledge system. Her holism invites us to bring in other knowledge systems, whether cultural or disciplinary.”

The three-day 4W Summit April 27 to 29 gives voice to several hundred regional, national and international participants who will present their research, scholarship, arts, activism and educational strategies in a series of breakout sessions Friday and Saturday. It is hosted by the UW-Madison 4W (Women and Well-being in Wisconsin and the World) Initiative and the UW Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium. It is convened under the auspices of the UNESCO Chair on Gender, Wellbeing and a Culture of Peace, part of the United Nations’ platform on education, science and culture.

The 2017 summit is the 40th gathering of the Wisconsin women’s and gender studies academic community. “In collaborating with the 4W Initiative we have expanded our focus, our participants and our audience to come together to examine women’s well-being in a global context, across all schools and disciplines,” says Helen Klebesadel, 4W Summit co-chair, and Director of the Women and Gender Studies Consortium.

Public invited to hear diverse voices

Keynote speaker Vandana Shiva is a spokeswoman for sustainability and gender equality.

Shiva is the founder and director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in Dehra Dun, India. Trained as a physicist, she is well-known for her interdisciplinary research in science, technology and environmental policy and her activism for protecting biodiversity, promoting sustainable agriculture and championing gender equity. She will present, “Women Lead the Way: From Violence to Non-Violence, from Greed to Sharing, from Hate to Love,” at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 27, in the Pyle Center Alumni Lounge.

The Shiva presentation is among several events that are free and open to the public. At 6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 27, following Shiva’s talk, the summit hosts a showing of “Why Women Need to Climb Mountains: A journey through the life and work of Dr. Gerda Lerner.” The film details the life and work of the activist, social reformer, feminist historian and UW-Madison professor, and the evening includes a virtual question and answer session with German filmmaker Renata Keller.

Ada Deer joins a Native American panel that looks at multiple ways of knowing.

The summit’s five plenary sessions and a film celebrating the 40th anniversary of women’s and gender studies at UW-Madison are also open to the public. Native American advocate Ada Deer, a member of the Menominee Tribe and former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, joins Native American panelists to consider multiple ways of knowing. The African American Health Network of Dane Country sponsors a panel that will look beyond the stereotypes of African American women, considering how these women have managed to survive and thrive amid often hostile environments.

The 4W plenary sessions by design offer diverse perspectives on contemporary issues facing women, DiPrete Brown says. “When women lead the way, we hope we remember our history and make places for historically marginalized voices. We want our work to be informed by the lived experiences of women from Wisconsin and around the world. It’s part of making the local-to-global connection.”

The plenary sessions will be Friday and Saturday at the Pyle Center:

  • Presenters from Egypt, Australia, India and the USA participate in “Transformative Transnational Feminism: Theory and Praxis for the Future of Feminism” at 9:15 a.m., Friday, April 28.
  • Teresa Langle de Paz, co-director of the UNESCO Chair on Gender, Well-being and a Culture of Peace, moderates “Democracy, Gender and Transformative Education in Europe: The Case of Spain.” Panelists explore how the Spanish democracy developed policies to support gender equality as part of democracy. The session begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday, April 28, in the Pyle Center.
  • UW-Madison’s Earlise Ward and Janean Dilworth-Bart join a panel that looks at “African American Women Beyond the Stereotypes.” Panelists will explore the multilayered identities and roles of African American women with a focus on mental health and wellness, resiliency and the sustainability movement. The discussion begins at 9:15 a.m. Saturday, April 28, in the Pyle Center.
  • UW-Madison’s Jean Geran, Aracelli Alonso and Amy Bintliff lead a discussion about the STREETS, or Social Transformations to End Exploitation and Trafficking for Sex, project looking at “Survivor and Educator Perspectives on Human Trafficking Education.” Alonso is also co-director of the UNESCO Chair. The session begins at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 29.
  • Ada Deer joins members of the Choctaw, Standing Rock Sioux, Turtle Mountain Ojibwe and Bad River Ojibwe tribes to discuss “Multiple Ways of Knowing: Insights Grounded in Indigenous Experiences.” The discussion begins at 4:45 p.m. Saturday, April 29, in the Pyle Center.

A long history of women’s studies

The 2017 4W Summit builds on 40 years of UW System faculty, staff and students coming together to create an academic community focused on and defined by the lived experiences of women, Klebesadel says. In 1976, UW-Madison librarians convened the first women’s studies conference in the UW system. Their theme was “Development of Resources for Women’s Studies in the UW System.”

The summit will celebrate the 40th anniversary of UW-Madison’s Office of the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian with, “Step by Step: Building a Feminist Movement.” The film at 7 p.m. Friday, April 28, documents how a diverse group of Midwestern women contributed to the larger feminist movement.

4W became a co-host of the annual conference last year. The 4W Initiative is co-convened by the School of Human Ecology, UW-Madison Global Health Institute, and Department of Gender and Women’s Studies.

Registration is requested, not required.

By Ann Grauvogl/ March 27, 2017

Water and refugees in the spotlight at Global Health Symposium

Check out photos from the 2017 Global Health Symposium

When it comes to fighting waterborne disease in drinking water, Tim Ford, a respected international water expert and keynote speaker for the 2017 Global Health Symposium at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, sees a long way to go.

Ford, professor and chair of Environmental Health Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and co-chair of the PAHO Foundation Technical Advisory Group, will discuss the significant challenges to clean water worldwide and in the United States. “We’ve seen such a great example in Flint, Michigan, that clean water is absolutely critical to our lifestyles, to our health, to our nutrition, to every aspect of our lives,” he says. “Water is as critical as air.”

Tim Ford

Ford’s presentation, “Global Issues in Water and Health,” open the 14th annual global health symposium, “For Our Planet. For Our Health.” This year’s symposium begins at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, in the Health Sciences Learning Center. Registration is requested not required.

More than 50 members of the UW-Madison community will participate in oral and poster presentations of the local and global projects across academic disciplines. Their investigations delve into an array of medical, policy and environmental factors that influence health and illness, including:

  • How satellites can advance air quality and public health
  • Infection control
  • Women and agriculture in Northern Ghana
  • Linking human and lake health at Lake Victoria
  • Immunizations in Thailand

The evening closes with a panel discussion on refugees, resettlement and health led by Karen Solheim, director for global health initiatives in the School of Nursing. Panel participants, including refugees and those who work with resettlement in Wisconsin, will explore changing U.S. refugee policies and processes and how they impact health. “We want to be educated and to serve and to conduct research about this important population in our global community,” Solheim says.

“As global health actors, we’re concerned about the 60 million refugees and displaced people throughout the world.”—Karen Solheim, School of Nursing

Global Health Symposium Program 2017

The challenge of combatting waterborne disease

Ford began his exploration of water as an environmental microbiologist looking at how rivers and streams cycle organic material. His later work shows the epidemiological links between contaminated water and global infectious disease. He brings with him the perspective of working in India, Russia, China and, most recently, with the Crow Nation in Montana to improve drinking water safety.

Water is central to nutrition. Hygiene and sanitation are as relevant today as they were in the 1800s. “We haven’t got it right yet in this country,” Ford says. “Our piping systems are 100-plus years old and deteriorating. We still have a long way to go before we can say we’re providing ourselves with a clean water source.”

The Montana Crow Reservation faced many of the same health issues—from high unemployment to chronic disease—Ford found globally and showed again that clean water is an environmental justice issue when low-resource communities suffer the most. Ford will discuss challenges on reservations as well as cities, looking at lead poisoning in Washington, D.C., and Flint, and cholera in Bangladesh. He also will speak to the value of community-based, participatory-research methods, based on his Montana experience in which his group provided health risk data and fully engaged the tribal community. Together, they influenced policy that led to building new water and wastewater treatment plans.

“If we’re not effective engaging communities, we won’t be effective,” he says. “Part of the task is conveying the importance of health information at every level.”

Ford’s work with PAHO Foundation includes new initiatives to optimize field-deployable techniques for environmental monitoring and infectious disease diagnostics. The PAHO Foundation strives to improve the health and well-being of the people in the Americas.

Ford’s lecture is co-sponsored by the University Lectures Committee.

By Ann Grauvogl/ March 20, 2017

CDC awards $10 million for insect borne disease center

UW-Madison graduate student Xia Lee hunts for ticks. (Photo by Susan Paskewitz.)

This story appeared originally at

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded $10 million to a consortium of Midwestern universities to establish a new research and training program to stem the spread of disease carried by vectors like ticks and mosquitoes.

The Upper Midwestern Center of Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases, which will be led by University of Wisconsin–Madison medical entomologists Lyric Bartholomay and Susan Paskewitz, is aimed at elevating the understanding of vector borne diseases and improving public health response to diseases like Zika, West Nile and Lyme disease. Both researchers are members of the Global Health Institute Advisory Committee.

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Ntambi’s Uganda courses inspire students to pursue health and service careers

Ntambi, center in red, with his field course students.

This story appeared first on the Department of Biochemistry website.

James Ntambi, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and leading researcher in nutritional biochemistry, bends down in the Ugandan soil outside a primary school. His study abroad students huddle around him. He picks up a stick and begins to work math problems in the dirt.

“He started telling us how he knew they practiced math that way because he went to primary school here,” says Trista Cushman, a biochemistry student who participated in the field course in the summer of 2016.

Ntambi started a study abroad program to Uganda at the University of Wisconsin–Madison 15 years ago, and it has since morphed into several successful parallel initiatives. Students can participate in a global health field course called Agriculture, Health & Nutrition, where they take a seminar during the fall semester and then travel to Uganda in late December. Other students participate in another global health field course, UW Mobile Clinics & Health Care, traveling to Uganda in the summer. Programs also exist for medical students. More than 300 students have participated in the programs.

Students in the Uganda field course learn about the country from their guide. ( Photo by Jordan Minick.)


“In courses I’ve taught, students learn about metabolic diseases and some are associated with nutritional deficiencies,” says Ntambi, who grew up and attended university in Uganda before earning a Fulbright to get a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins. “We learn about them in a textbook but I wanted to start an international program where students could see the impacts of biochemistry in real life.”

The Department of Biochemistry also houses many other study abroad opportunities. Professor Marvin Wickens sends students each summer to work in labs in England, through the SCORE program, and Germany, through the Super G program, to gain valuable research and cultural experiences. The Khorana Program, run by professor Aseem Ansari, is an exchange program with India.

On the trips to Uganda, students get a comprehensive view of health impacts by learning about the influences of agriculture, nutrition, health care, and sanitation. They also learn about social factors, such as economics and culture, that impact people’s ability to make decisions about their health and that of their family and community.

Students tour hospitals and clinics, learning about the country’s health care system. They spend time working on projects that improve sanitation and access to clean water. Students also visit a large sustainable farm that provides food for village residents and surplus to sell.

“I’m pre-med and plan to go to medical school so the focus on global health and the health care system in Uganda was very significant to me,” says Cushman, who received a scholarship from the Department of Biochemistry to help fund her trip. “In the medical field in the U.S. it’s very ‘treat, treat, treat’ and no prevention, but you realize that through the efforts of those working in Uganda that it can be an effective approach to health care. That is something I hope to continue.”

Biochemistry junior Caroline Kreitzer was excited for the opportunity to learn more about global health, which she plans to pursue as a career. “Through the seminar this semester, I’ve learned many things about the country,” she says. “The course will be both hands on and reflective, where we think back on our experience and relate it to our futures in an integrated learning experience. I think that’s the benefit of being with someone like James.”

Biochemistry’s study abroad programs have a lasting impact. For example, the Village Health Project is a UW–Madison student organization started in 2005 that sprung out of students’ interest in continuing a relationship with the villages they visited on the trip. Many other students find themselves going back to Uganda, as well.

“Just the other day I was talking to someone in Uganda and learned a previous student from the course got a dental degree in Minnesota and is now going back to provide dental services in these rural communities,” says Ntambi, who is also a faculty member in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. “Isn’t that amazing? They go back on their own because of the relationships they built. And that is what global health is all about.”

UniverCity Alliance: Providing resources and saving money for Monona

The City of Monona is not unlike a lot of small cities in Wisconsin — motivated by an ambitious vision, but constrained by limited resources. Enter “UniverCity Year,” a UW–Madison project that offers the services of students in disciplines ranging from civil engineering to art, to expand a community’s capacity to plan for bigger things. Says Mayor Bob Miller, “We’re tackling some projects that we’ve only dreamed of someday approaching.”

The Global Health Institute is among the core partners of the UniverCity Alliance, which organized the UniverCity Year program.

“Tech will take over,” giving rural Africans access to health care

Mobile medicine is improving care in rural Africa by making information easily accessible when clinics can be hours away.

Mobile medicine is improving care in rural Africa by making information easily accessible when clinics can be hours away.

Read more: How a GHI Seed Grant improved emergency medicine in South Africa. 

Mobile devices are vital for health care, especially for African communities that are many miles from clinics, say several scholars who recently visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I tell people tech will take over,” says Sicily Mburu, a public health consultant in the Kenyan government under the Ministry of Health.

Mburu was one of 25 leaders from 19 African countries who were brought to the UW-Madison in summer 2016 as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a program under President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Several of the public health leaders have a keen interest in using technology to improve access to health care, including Mburu. Her peers, Babafemi “Femi” Adebola from Nigeria and Julius M. Gilayeneh from Liberia, also understand that technology can transform care.

“I tell people tech will take over.”—Sicily Mburu, Kenyan physician and public health consultant

One of the key issues facing rural African communities is a lack of nearby clinics. With poor roads, far-off clinics and a lack of connection between rural communities and medical hubs, people may walk 20 hours to a hospital only to find the medication they need is not available or they cannot get in to see the doctor. In several African countries, including Kenya where Mburu says mobile phone network coverage is “remarkable,” technology offers a solution.

Based on Pew data from Spring 2014, 82 percent of people in Kenya and 89 percent of people in Nigeria own a cell- or smartphone. “People know the importance of communication,” Mburu says. People with barely enough money to live on will often have two mobile phones because of their value as a source of information and a platform for mobile banking.

In Nigeria, “the average person can afford a phone but not hospital bills,” says Adebola, an emergency medicine physician. “If people have access to a phone, they should have access to a doctor.”

Using mobile to thwart AIDS

Sicily Mburu, a Kenyan physician and public health consultant, started Aids No More to improve access to care for young people.

Sicily Mburu, a Kenyan physician and public health consultant, started AIDS No More to improve access to care for young people.

Mburu founded AIDS No More, an awareness organization based in Kenya, to improve access to care in young people in both urban and rural communities. The organization, which began with youth volunteers engaging others in discussion on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, is now expanding its reach with a cell phone texting service. The new service will be used together with ongoing social media initiatives to educate more young people and provide an outlet to overcome the stigmas of the disease.

“If young people register with AIDS No More, they can ask us very specific questions over text,” Mburu says. “We can answer their concerns, direct them to places for treatment and send reminders for medications and clinic visits.”

Many times the stigma and discrimination against carriers of HIV/AIDS prevents people from seeking medical attention or asking questions, Mburu says. “This first obstacle is what we aim to overcome.” Through social media, AIDS No More also allows an open, and if-desired, anonymous, platform for discussing the disease.

While anonymity is always respected, Mburu hopes that creating a space for conversation and sharing other’s stories on @AIDSNoMore will educate the community and reduce the shame of talking about the disease or walking into a clinic. “We have seen remarkable open attitudes once we link (patients) up with health care personnel. They come out to share their experiences,” Mburu says.

Taking advantage of mobile-friendly infrastructure in Nigeria

Similar efforts are being implemented in Nigeria, one of the most mobile-friendly countries in Africa, where traveling to clinics and the cost of medical services also limits access to care.

“If people have access to a phone, they should have access to a doctor,” Babafemi “Femi” Adebola, Nigerian physician

Taking advantage of mobile, Adebola co-founded the HiDoctor app to provide free access to health information for Nigerians. A doctor responds when patients call HiDoctor and follows up as the patients get to a health care facility.

Femi Adebola helped found HiDoctor-Nigeria, a mobile platform that provides free access to health information and medical consultation.

Femi Adebola helped found HiDoctor-Nigeria, a mobile platform that provides free access to health information and medical consultation.

Maybe a child is convulsing and parents wonder what can they do. Through the app, the doctor on call will tell them how to help their child and also direct the family to the nearest care facility. “We don’t prevent people from going to the hospital,” Adebola says. “We still recommend getting to the hospital and show them reasons to do so.”

Looking forward, Mburu and Adebola plan to improve their use of technology. Mburu and her co-founders at AIDS No More hope to include information on additional medical needs beyond HIV/AIDS, along with expanding into Mozambique, where the prevalence of HIV is high, particularly among young women. The HiDoctor team hopes to expand their reach by recruiting more doctors.

Seeing opportunity in Liberia

While Mburu and Adebola have already tapped into mobile’s potential in Kenya and Nigeria, Julius SM Gilayeneh dreams of bringing up-to-date technologies into the Liberian health care system.

“Simple investments in mobile technology can make a very big difference in infrastructure.”—  Julius SM Gilayeneh, physician, Liberia

“We need to invest in our countries and see technology as one of the most efficient and effective ways to improve the health care system,” says Gilayeneh, one of two medical doctors at Chief Jallah Lone Medical Center in Gbarpolu County. Working in such a remote county in rural Liberia, Gilayeneh is particularly keen on the benefits of mobile health care services such as texting or calling to ask doctors for advice.

“Simple investments in mobile technology can make a very big difference in infrastructure,” he says. “We must look beyond the physical infrastructure and make sure (doctors) are accessible. We need to provide the appropriate technology first.”

Travel is always an issue, as medical hubs are not often near rural communities. Other than improving the road networks, Gilayeneh believes that technology can eliminate unnecessary lengthy trips by tracking where medications are available.

Having medical professionals discuss symptoms and care over mobile phones also eliminates the immediate need to travel by “helping people make the right decision about where to go and when to go,” he says.

Before mobile technology can be fully implemented, however, Liberia needs to expand its mobile infrastructure. One of the leading communications companies in Liberia started a mobile health initiative to connect patients to doctors via phone calls, but with such poor cellular reception and the high cost per minute, the service is not as beneficial as it could be. “More than 60 percent of the rural communities do not have network coverage,” Gilayeneh says.

With expanded network coverage, Gilayeneh is confident technology can improve care. “Where technology has been used to increase access to health services, the outcomes have been good,” he says, adding without the technology, communities will continue to struggle. “I fear we may in the future have something worse if we don’t get the technologies very soon.”

By Lily R. Hansen / December 4, 2016

GHI Seed Grant improves emergency care

South Africa's Mohammed Dalwai and UIW-Madison's Janis Tupesis used a GHI Seed Grant to develop a mobile app to help emergency physicians have needed information immediately.

South Africa’s Mohammed Dalwai, left, and UW-Madison’s Janis Tupesis used a GHI Seed Grant to develop a mobile app to give emergency physicians needed information immediately.

Read more: How visiting African scholars use mobile medicine in Africa.

In an emergency, physicians need the right information. Right now.

Thanks to a Seed Grant from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute (GHI), a new app, called Essential Medicine Guidance, is giving doctors critical information when they need it.

“The app is a way to affect more than just one person at a time, and we are seeing the impact.”—Mohammed Dalwai, app collaborator, South Africa

The app was introduced in July in the Western Cape province in South Africa, and, within a month, 150 to 200 emergency health care providers were accessing it regularly for location-specific information about everything from what medicines are available to a hospital’s clinical guidelines to manage specific conditions.

“For a better quality of care, doctors need to make the right decisions and need access to the right information when they need it,” says Yaseen Khan, a South African collaborator on the project. “The app has really given our medical professionals a point of care tool.”

GHI Seed Grants support UW-Madison efforts to launch new global research projects and make them competitive for sustained external funding. Seed Grants allow researchers to reach across disciplines for collaborators and make many projects possible. The awards have supported efforts from empowering women in agriculture to supporting palliative care.

Based on their Seed Grant projects, recipients have published research papers, presented talks and received further government and private funding to continue their work.

“The GHI Seed Grant process allows faculty and staff to take well thought out, multi-disciplinary research proposals from the “theoretical” to the “practical,” says Janis Tupesis, from the Department of Emergency Medicine and a project collaborator. “For our project it meant that we had the ability to develop and implement a project management strategy that included clinicians, educators, researchers and IT professionals.”

The app team used background research on IT usage trends in the Western Cape to write the new and innovative software program and implement it locally. The goal is to scale it up for regional, national and international use.

“Without the support of the GHI Seed Grant program, this project simply would not have been possible.”—Janis Tupesis, Graduate Medical Education liaison to GHI.

Tupesis collaborated with Khan and Mohammed Dalwai, co-founders of the The Open Medicine Project South Africa (TOMPSA), who have also developed mobile triage apps to help Doctors Without Borders and others more quickly determine which patients need care most urgently.

GPS allows the Emergency Medicine Guidance App to identify where a health care worker is and to provide critical care guidelines, drug formularies, on-call specialists, referral protocols and more for that specific health care facility. If the health care worker moves to another hospital, the app will deliver guidelines for the new location.tompsa-banner-emergency-medicine-guidance-app

“A lot of care is logistical, and we capture that with the platform and relationships with key information providers,” Khan says. The app gives physicians details about clinical questions that can change depending on local policies and styles, the burden of disease and resources available at each site.

App also benefits public health

With GPS, the app can also collect information to improve public health. By knowing where health care workers are and what they’re looking for, the app team can track disease outbreaks or gaps in service, Tupesis says. By tracking user data, it might become obvious that one hospital may need more training in labor and delivery, while another may be facing an acute outbreak of fever or abnormal bleeding.

Just as multiple authors provide content for Wikipedia, hospitals, medical schools and professional organizations are supplying location-specific information for the Emergency Medical Guidance App. TOMPSA is vetting information for accuracy.

The men hope to have full content available for all of South Africa within six months.

“For us, it’s really about being able to make that change and affect the lives of other people,” Dalwai says. “The app is a way to affect more than just one person at a time, and we are seeing the impact.”

By Ann Grauvogl/ December 4, 2016

“What does global health mean to you?”


“I think it’s our responsibly as the human race to look out for each other despite any differences when it comes to government or religious views or race,” said Jonathan, a student from Rock University High School, on his definition of global health.

Jonathan was one of 40 students from seven area schools who was welcomed to University of Wisconsin-Madison for High School Global Health Day: “Opening Doors to the World.” Led by Sweta Shrestha, the UW-Madison Global Health Institute’s assistant director for education, the program aimed to leave students with a better understanding of how social circumstances and environmental resources influence health.
In partnership with the Area Health Education Centers, the students enjoyed a full day of programming including a privilege walk, a Q&A with a panel of college students, and an activity that allowed them to discuss the implications of foreign medical aid by college students without training.

dsc02766Students from Partners in Health Engage and Globe Med, two student organizations on campus, helped ensure the success of the event while sharing their knowledge and insights with the visiting students.

After the day of activities, we were curious to know how these future health professionals interpreted global health.

We asked them one question. “Based on what you’ve learned today, what does global health mean to you?”
Here’s what they said.

  • “I think that global health is doing the same thing as public health – but its more across national borders. Something that helps in one country may not help in another one. Pushing medication on a country that you deem needs it may not be the cause. Say there’s a lack of a good water supply that causing the sickness, you’re not actually fixing the problem by just supplying medicine, so you have to learn that different things are needed in different countries.” –Ashtin, Rock University High School
  • “I can’t just think that everybody has what they need. There are going to be people that need more help, and that we should help. We should provide the things they can’t get themselves. We can do more to help.” –Alexia, Janesville Craig
  •  dsc02661-1“How people interact with their surroundings, their cultures and society to get medicine and how they interact with medicine as a whole.” –Sydney, Sun Prairie
  • “After today, we’ve learned that global health isn’t so much the well-being of individual countries, it’s the well-being of countries in relation to each other. We’re not just striving to be the best for our own countries, we want to be able to assist and help other countries who may not have the resources or capabilities of providing a good health system to its citizens. So I think its our responsibly as the human race to look out for each other despite any differences when it comes to government or religious views or race – I think it’s an obligation.” –Jonathan, Rock University High School
  • “Global health is when people have physical and mental well-being. We have to know that not everyone has the same resources and we have to be understanding of that.” –Alicia, Janesville Craig
  • “Global health is watching out for the well-being of others while putting in their culture and religion as an aspect and not just only providing what they need and finding the source but figuring out how it fits in with their culture.” –Ryott, Rock University High School

By Catherine Goslin/ Nov. 30, 2016.

World shrinks as UW, African colleagues find common ground in HIV/AIDS

Differences faded when a group of African health care leaders, visiting Madison as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, sat down this summer to talk about HIV/AIDS challenges with their University of Wisconsin-Madison counterparts.

Sharing a table in the UW-Madison Health Science Learning Center, they realized the issues they face with HIV/AIDS know no boundaries. Physicians, nurses, midwives and social workers from Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, ­­­Botswana, Uganda and Wisconsin recognized each other’s questions.

  • What do you do when a patient has taken so many pills for so long that she refuses to take any more?
  • When do you tell a child who was born with the virus that he is HIV-positive?
  • Stigma is alive and well everywhere: How do you help patients know who to tell and when to remain silent?

Although they come from two continents with vastly different resources, each group can

Susan Mmalane works with volunteers and HIV-positive patients in a Botswana refugee camp.

Susan Mmalane works with volunteers and HIV-positive patients in a Botswana refugee camp.

claim the same rate of success—measured by the number of patients whose HIV is enough under control that no virus can be detected. About 30 percent of U.S. patients reach that zero viral load; about 30 percent of African patients reach the goal.

“We are practicing in a different way, but at the end of the day, we have the same goal. We’re looking to an HIV-free future.”—Susan Mmalane, Botswana

“We are practicing in a different way, but, at the end of the day, we have the same goal,” says Susan Mmalane, an HIV/AIDS prevention and care officer for the Botswana Red Cross Society in Dukwi Refugee Camp. “We’re looking to an HIV-free future.” Of the 2,600 refugees who came from across Africa, 10 percent are children who fled war zones, many of them arriving alone. Mmalane supervises volunteers, counsel patients and works with an HIV support group. She would like to establish an HIV/AIDS club for the children living with the virus, so they can give each other hope.

UW Health's Susan Gold, a long-time global health field course leader, established Talking Health Out Loud, a mobile health platform that gives teens a safe place to ask questions about HIV and sexuality.

UW Health’s Susan Gold, left, a long-time global health field course leader, established Talking Health Out Loud, a mobile health platform that gives teens a safe place to ask questions about HIV and sexuality.

“We tend to think we’d be so much better,” says Susan Gold, a UW Health HIV nurse who has worked in and led UW-Madison global health field courses to east Africa since 2003. “But (the results are) about the same because there are so many barriers to care all over the world. It doesn’t matter what country you live in, HIV has huge effects, economically, politically, socially. We’re all in this together. (The meeting) was an affirmation that the fight goes on.” Gold also founded Talking Health Out Loud, a mobile platform that gives teens a safe place to ask questions about HIV and sexuality.

The HIV/AIDS meeting brought together Africans and Wisconsinites who are on the front lines of prevention and care. It was the sort of intimate, personal discussion that can only take place when participants are in the same room sharing the same concerns.

The African health leaders were among 25 scholars who spent six weeks in Madison in summer 2016 as part of the larger, national program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative. The UW African Studies Program hosted the scholars, and the Global Health Institute organized several academic sessions for them, covering climate change and health, quality improvement, immunizations, designing cities for the future and HIV/AIDS.

“There’s so much we can learn from people who do similar work to what we do, and who do it in resource limited areas,” says James Conway, a UW physician specializing in pediatric infectious disease who organized the meeting. He’s also the UW-Madison Global Health Institute associate director of health sciences and has worked around the world to improve access to vaccinations.

“As things get tighter in the United States, we realize we need to be more efficient,” Conway says. “One of the most efficient things you can see is how people manage health challenges in resource-challenged settings.

Bringing people together so they see their challenges are the same makes them more likely to work together. Sitting together as they did in Madison lets them break down what needs to be done and share how they are taking those steps.

Femi Adebola helped found HiDoctor-Nigeria, a mobile platform that provides free access to health information and medical consultation.

Femi Adebola helped found HiDoctor-Nigeria, a mobile platform that provides free access to health information and medical consultation.

“If we share experiences and collaborate, we have better results.”—Femi Adebola, Nigeria

“Communication is always a two-way thing,” says Babafemi “Femi” Adebola, a Nigerian emergency room physician who also leads corporate services at HiDoctor-Nigeria, a mobile platform that provides free access to health information and medical consultation. “If we share experiences and collaborate, we have better results. If something works somewhere, we can pick something that we can implement in our own place.”

Nigeria has youth-friendly HIV centers that don’t look like clinics and teens are often reluctant to move to adult care. With four doctors for every 100,000 people, physicians can’t spend a lot of time on helping with the transition. Adebola was inspired to see newer drugs available in Madison that will decrease the number of pills and quantities of medicine needed to control HIV. He was surprised to learn that, even in the United States, people also might travel hundreds of miles to access care. “It felt that Africa was not so much left behind,” he says. “The world needs to work more on access to care and funding for vulnerable groups.”

Kenyan physician Sicily Mburu works in HIV/AIDs prevention and care and founded

Sicily Mburu founded AIDS No More to get HIV/AIDS information to teens and young people through social media.

Sicily Mburu founded AIDS No More to get HIV/AIDS information to teens and young people through social media.

@AIDSnomore to get information to teens and young people through social media. With more than 1 million HIV cases in the country and a surge of teens and children born with the virus, she struggles with how soon to let children know they have HIV. She also engages with young HIV-positive moms on how to breastfeed and safely wean their babies.

“We have made connections and have networks to come back and talk to,” she says of her UW-Madison colleagues. “This is not a one-time deal. We will continue to share our knowledge with our countries and come back to our mentors at UW.”

By Ann Grauvogl/ October 5, 2016

New virus found during investigation into largemouth bass fish kill

A new virus has been identified in association with a die-off of largemouth bass in Pine Lake Wisconsin's Forest County. Although the virus was discovered in association with a fish kill, more work is needed to understand if it is the primary culprit. (Photo by Cliff via Creative Commons.)

A new virus has been identified in association with a die-off of largemouth bass in Pine Lake Wisconsin’s Forest County. Although the virus was discovered in association with a fish kill, more work is needed to understand if it is the primary culprit. (Photo by Cliff via Creative Commons.)

This story appeared originally on

A new virus has been identified in association with a die-off of largemouth bass in Pine Lake in Wisconsin’s Forest County.

The previously unknown virus was isolated at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s La Crosse Fish Health Center from dead fish collected by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) during an investigation into a May 2015 fish kill in the northeastern Wisconsin lake.

The virus’s genome was sequenced at a “virus hunting laboratory” operated by Tony Goldberg in the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin—Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Goldberg is the associate director of research for the Global Health Institute.

With the genome in hand, Goldberg and his colleagues scoured genetic databases to see if the virus was known or something novel.

“The take-home message is that you don’t have to fly to the ends of the Earth to find examples of unknown, emerging diseases. We can find them right here in Wisconsin.”—Tony Goldberg

The pathogen, according to Goldberg, was indeed new to science and has been dubbed largemouth bass reovirus. It has yet to be directly linked to fish mortality, explains Goldberg. However, the virus is a distant relative of other viruses associated with disease in other fish species, making it a key suspect in the Pine Lake fish kill.

Photo: Tony Goldberg

Tony Goldberg

“We can’t say if it is directly responsible for fish mortality yet,” Goldberg says. “But these kinds of viruses are known pathogens of fish, so we would be prudent to be concerned about it.”

The new virus is described this week in the online version of the Journal of General Virology in a research report authored by Goldberg and colleagues from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the DNR. Its discovery comes against the backdrop of a deadly fish pathogen, viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus, which was found in 2006 in Lake Winnebago. Viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus has since been found in lakes Michigan and Superior and, should it spread, poses a threat to Wisconsin’s inland fisheries, including iconic species such as musky, pike, bass, panfish and trout.

“Largemouth bass reovirus is only the second representative of its group of viruses,” notes Goldberg, an epidemiologist, world expert on emerging infectious disease. “This family of viruses are emerging pathogens that infect all sorts of animals. They cause kills in marine and freshwater fisheries, including in wild and farmed populations.”

Although the virus was discovered in association with a fish kill, more work is needed to understand if it is the primary culprit, Goldberg says. However, large fish kills involving a single species of fish such as largemouth bass have not been previously recorded at Pine Lake, making the virus a suspicious finding.

Should the virus be directly implicated in fish mortality, it will pose a new challenge in the control of fish disease in Wisconsin. Anglers spend roughly $2.1 billion annually in the state, according to the DNR, and the state has an aquaculture industry with an estimated $21 million annual economic impact. The Great Lakes together have a commercial fishery valued at $23 million annually.

“We can’t say if it is directly responsible for fish mortality yet. But these kinds of viruses are known pathogens of fish, so we would be prudent to be concerned about it.”—Tony Goldberg

“This is a classic example of how science is essential for managing our natural resources and the economic benefits they bring to Wisconsin,” Goldberg says. “Without strong science, Wisconsin cannot hope to respond effectively to these types of emerging problems.”

Identifying the new virus was made possible by “next generation sequencing” technologies. These methods enable biologists to sequence millions of molecules of genetic material in a sample and then use powerful computers to decipher the results. As the technology becomes more accessible, Goldberg expects other fish viruses to be found.

“The take-home message is that you don’t have to fly to the ends of the Earth to find examples of unknown, emerging diseases,” Goldberg says. “We can find them right here in Wisconsin.”

There is no evidence that the new virus poses a risk to human health.

By Terry Devitt,UW-Madison/August 5, 2016

Fish, floods and diabetes under scrutiny with four new GHI Seed Grants

Kenyan women use Lake Victoria for washing household goods, even in the midst of a cyanobacterial bloom. (Photo by Jessica Corman.)

University of Wisconsin-Madison investigators will address flood forecasting and health implications, protecting natural fisheries, tracing the safety of wild-caught fish and improving diabetes care with four new Seed Grants from the UW-Madison Global Health Institute (GHI).

The GHI Seed Grants support UW-Madison efforts to launch new global research projects and make them competitive for sustained external funding. Seed grants allow researchers to reach across disciplines for collaborators and make many projects possible.

Jessica Corman, a postdoctoral research associate in the Center for Limnology, appreciates finding funding that allows her to link her basic science work about what causes algae blooms in Lake Victoria with a collaborator’s knowledge of how people use the resources in the lake.

“It’s difficult to find resources that bridge the gap between theoretical science and application.”—Jessica Corman

Corman’s project will empower women to understand and address the threats to water and fish that are necessary for survival.

GHI received 19 proposals this year that were evaluated by a panel of experts from across campus. Investigators received up to $50,000 to launch their projects.

2016 Seed Grant recipients:

  • Paul Block, Ph.D., assistant professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering. “Flood Prediction to Support Advanced Disaster Preparedness and Public Health Risks: Understanding, Development, and Application”
  • Jessica Corman, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate, Center for Limnology. “Water, Women, and Fisheries: Addressing Two Ecological Realities Impacting Human Health at Lake Victoria”
  • Peter McIntyre, Ph.D., assistant professor, Center for Limnology, and James Hurley, Ph.D., associate professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering and director, UW Aquatic Sciences Center. “Polluted fish and cycles of poverty: tracing the global scope of mercury contamination of fisheries”
  • James Svenson, MD, MS, associate professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine and Public Health; Kevin Wyne, PA-C, faculty associate, Family Medicine.  “Rural Guatemala Diabetes Initiative”

“The seed funding will allow us to add another dimension to our research, specifically to better understand the predictability of health indicators associated with flood-related conditions,” says Block, whose ongoing work has focused on season-ahead flood predictions. “Linking in health indicators explicitly links science, hydrology and society,” he says.

The Seed Grant gives Svenson resources to focus on developing a mobile app to help patients with diabetes. “The idea is to enable minimally trained providers to be able to provide care,” he says. “A mobile app is the way to go.”

Rural patients, who need to wait for a ride to the clinic in San Lucas, often just don’t go in for care. Since good cell phone coverage is available even in rural Guatemala, health care workers will be able to use an app on their mobile phones to record blood sugar levels, provide guidance and adjust medicines.

This is the second year a Seed Grant has been used to develop a mobile app. Working with collaborators in South Africa, Janis Tupesis, MD, GHI-Graduate Medical Education liaison, is near to launching an app to improve emergency care.

Here’s a closer look at this year’s Seed Grant projects. For more information, visit:

“Flood Prediction to Support Advanced Disaster Preparedness and Public Health Risks: Understanding, Development, and Application”

Principal investigator: Paul Block, assistant professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Flood catastrophes lead all natural hazards in terms of impacts on society. Most floods occur in developing regions and tropical regions where the impact on public health is substantial. In this project, we propose to develop a global flood prediction model to support disaster preparedness and managements for potential flood and flood-induced public health risks.

“Water, Women, and Fisheries: Addressing Two Ecological Realities Impacting Human Health at Lake Victoria”

Principal investigator: Jessica Corman, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate, Center for Limnology

Lake Victoria represents the largest tropical lake by surface area in Africa and supports the largest freshwater lake fishery in the world. Population growth, land cultivation, nutrient pollution, climate variability, resource extraction, intensive fishing and other stressors have dramatically altered water quality and fisheries ecology, affecting 30 million people living around the lake. Satellite imagery and direct observation show harmful algae blooms and water hyacinth invasions, which can negatively impact livelihoods and health. This project will investigate the interrelationship between these two ecological realities and empower communities through women-led initiatives and interventions to reduce impacts on fisheries livelihoods and community health.

“Polluted fish and cycles of poverty: tracing the global scope of mercury contamination of fisheries”

Principal investigators: Peter McIntyre, Ph.D., assistant professor, Center for Limnology; James Hurley, Ph.D., associate professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering; director, UW Aquatic Sciences Center

This project addresses an unrecognized facet of the cycle of poverty: contamination of food fish with neurotoxins. Mercury from global and local sources biomagnifies in fish, and even low dietary levels can impair human cognitive development. The investigators will analyze archived tissues from four continents, yielding an overall assessment of the threat posed to hundreds of millions of poor people. This work will set the stage for a major initiative to document and publicize the safety of eating wild-caught freshwater fish.

“Rural Guatemala Diabetes Initiative”

Principal investigators: James Svenson, MD, MS, associate professor, Emergency Medicine; Kevin Wyne, PA-C, faculty associate, Family Medicine

San Lucas Tolimán is a town of 17,000 in southern Guatemala, and the population is experiencing rapid growth in rates of chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes. There are many barriers to effective treatment of diabetes, including access to care and medications. Empowering health promoters to monitor and provide treatment in their communities is an effective way to improve glucose control and long-term outcomes for patients with diabetes in this region. The investigators will collaborate with a group from Stanford University to develop a computer-based app that can be used by village health promoters to monitor their diabetic patients.

By Ann Grauvogl/ May 2, 2016