Colombia-UW agreement opens new doors for global health training and research

Officials standing in a line and holding new agreement with UW-Madison.

A new agreement between the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Colombian government opens opportunities for research and bilateral exchanges for students and researchers, says Jorge Osorio, the new director of the UW-Madison Global Health Institute and professor of Pathobiological Sciences in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Opportunities to develop and produce new vaccines for Colombia. Opportunities to work across disciplines and geographic boundaries. Opportunities for Colombian students and researchers to have access to UW expertise and training and to build research capacity in Colombia. Opportunities for UW students and researchers to delve into the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet, work first-hand with tropical diseases, collaborate with new colleagues, and see how environment, politics and social structures affect health.

Osorio hosted a Colombian delegation to UW-Madison on May 13, including Tito Crissien, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, to meet with Provost Karl Scholz and Vice Provost Guido Podesta, dean of the International Division. The UW-Madison and Colombian officials signed a letter of intent to build bilateral scientific cooperation in One Health, human health and biomedical research. (One Health recognizes that the health of humans, animals and ecosystems are interconnected.)

“It’s a matter of trying to position UW in different places. We’re trying to open official channels of agreement with partnerships in many different venues.”—Jorge Osorio

A group of people standing and sitting for the photo.
The Colombian delegation also met with Colombian faculty and students at UW-Madison to discuss science and innovation in Colombia and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

UW-Madison has experience in many fields that impact health, and this agreement provides an opportunity for Colombian researchers and students to learn at UW-Madison and for UW work to be put into the field through translational science, Osorio says. “We can show how work done here can have an impact. Getting students and faculty into the real world will improve the quality of the work done in Wisconsin.”

“We’re pleased that UW-Madison will be working with the Colombian Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation,” Scholz says. “UW has had a relationship with Colombia for the last 50 years. This agreement will strengthen and formalize our partnerships. This is a wonderful opportunity for our faculty and students, and we look forward to this new partnership.”

 The agreement shows Colombia’s willingness to collaborate, especially on health issues, Crissien says. “We came here to get to know the University of Wisconsin. We don’t want to stop only with vaccines. We are looking to other initiatives.”

The letter of intent stresses the importance of a U.S.-Colombia relationship in areas of human health to better promote scientific cooperation and support friendly relations. The agreement looks to bilateral collaboration:

  • to broaden and deepen cooperation in science and technology
  • promote high-level training for researchers
  • promote transparency through information exchange and cooperation

The letter especially identifies the development of a fellowship program to train Colombian researchers to tackle health challenges by learning from UW-Madison’s research in infectious diseases. It also opens the door for cooperation in areas including neurosciences and mental health, cancer, immunology, non-communicable diseases and One Health.

Vice Minister Sergio Cristancho looks to increased mobility for doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers who will be able to train in state-of-the art labs such as Osorio’s. He anticipates joint efforts to support research on a wide variety of issues that affect health.

“With people trained and with good infrastructure, we can solve our own public health issues,”—Sergio Cristancho

In addition to Colombian students and researchers visiting UW-Madison, Osorio expects new opportunities for UW students and researchers to work in Colombia.

Osorio, was named GHI’s next director in early May. He and Jonathan Patz will be co-directors through June, when Patz steps down to concentrate fully on his climate and health work.

The agreement grew out of Osorio’s work in Colombia, where he founded VaxThera, a Colombian-based company that will produce vaccines and biologicals for the region. He is also co-director of the Colombia-Wisconsin One Health Consortium—a research center established by investigators from UW-Madison and the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. The consortium is pursuing new biological, genetic and bioengineering solutions for infectious diseases and examining pathogens that affect the health of humans, animals and the environment. It also works to strengthen regional and national capacities in science and technology.

The One Health Consortium builds relationships between the universities, Osorio says. The new agreement with the Colombian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation expands opportunities for different programs. “Once you have a memorandum of understanding, a lot can happen in the future,” he says. “We have a document that shows an ongoing relationship between Wisconsin and Colombia.”


By Ann Grauvogl/ May 17, 2022