End of year message from Dean Williams

Dear Members of the Harvard Chan School Community,

Our School has a proud tradition of sharing knowledge, building local capacity, and driving public health innovation to benefit the world. We saw yet another example of this just this month, when the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, our School’s collaboration with the Botswana Ministry of Health, became the first health system to identify the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

In that spirit, I wanted to highlight some of our cross-disciplinary innovations that launched this fall, all of which will help advance global collaboration to build a healthier, more equitable, and more sustainable world.

China Collaborations

Just two weeks ago, we unveiled a new partnership between our institution and the newly founded Vanke School of Public Health at Tsinghua University in Beijing, led by the former director-general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan. Our institutions will engage in shared education and research in infectious diseases as well as other cross-national issues such as climate change and drug-resistant microbes. The collaboration will enable students and faculty from Vanke to study and research here in Boston, and we will engage students from both schools in field research that may be in the United States or China.

To further advance multilateral cooperation, Dr. Chan and I have also founded the Global Coalition of Deans of Schools of Public Health. A core group of deans from across the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia met last week to discuss how to advance the global health security agenda.

Earlier in November, we also announced a bilateral exchange program in clinical research between Harvard Chan and the Zhejiang University School of Medicine. Our faculty participated in an inaugural forum for Chinese physicians and researchers, which drew an astounding 1.4 million online viewers – a sign of how eager local clinicians are to learn from and collaborate with our School.

Climate Action

Our faculty have been at the forefront of the urgent effort to tackle climate change.

Renee Salas, Yerby Fellow at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, co-authored The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, a global report on these critical issues. In honor of her commitment to rapidly advancing understanding of climate change and health, Dr. Salas was recently elected to the National Academy of Medicine, along with adjunct faculty member Eric Rubin.

Also this fall, Samuel Myers, principal research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health and director of the Planetary Health Alliance, co-wrote the São Paulo Declaration on Planetary Health, published in The Lancet. The declaration issued a global call to action charting a path forward to support a more equitable and resilient post-pandemic world. “We will need to, and can, effect urgent, deep, structural changes in how we live,” Myers and his coauthors wrote.
Several Harvard Chan faculty also attended COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, helping to push the world toward more aggressive action.

Leveraging Data 

Early in the pandemic, Harvard Chan researchers helped develop a global network of experts—the COVID-19 Mobility Data Network (CMDN)—to serve as intermediaries in the data pipeline between technology companies and public health decision-makers. Last month they expanded this work into CrisisReady, a platform that aims to embed data-driven decision-making into local disaster planning around the world.

Harvard Chan researchers are also leading a new collaborative effort to increase training opportunities in data science research in five African countries. They will work with colleagues at Heidelberg University to help develop a training hub at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa that will also serve researchers at partner institutions in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. The new program is one of 19 funded through a $74.5 million award from the NIH, announced in October.

These are just a few of our many ongoing efforts to leverage meaningful transnational partnerships to tackle the many public health challenges we face. As we head into winter break, I want to extend my deepest thanks to every one of you for your work to advance a new paradigm for global cooperation—cooperation that is core to our DNA. I hope you all have a wonderful and restorative holiday. I look forward to seeing you back on campus in January.


Michelle A. Williams