By: Madeline Steck, MPH
Dr. Matthew Dacso serves as
the Chair of the New Department of Global Health and Emerging Diseases (GHED) within the new School of Public and Population Health (SHHP) at UTMB. Dacso began the interview by briefly outlining UTMB’s long-standing medical and scientific
prominence, giving context to the formal establishment of the public health school. Situated in a historically significant port city on the Texas coastline, the institution performed crucial roles in disease epidemic response at the community and
state-wide level, including historic outbreaks of yellow fever, tuberculosis, and plague. More recently, the Covid-19 pandemic kickstarted the Texas legislature into taking measures to expand and strengthen the public health workforce. The SPPH was
formally approved by the state in May 2021 and includes four departments alongside GHED 1.
Graphic of GEHD’s Collaborative Initiatives (Source: Dr. Matthew Dacso)
Dacso notes that the GHED is still in development mode. “We’re at a very early-stage”, he stated while gesturing to himself sitting alone in an office space, “you’re looking at the entire department!”. While core faculty
positions are still being recruited, there are already numerous adjuncts from around campus that compose a diverse team of basic scientists, virologists, clinicians, nurses, educators, and allied health professionals. The vision of GHED is to create
resilient health systems that support health promotion and improve health for all, while the mission is to advance innovative programs that strengthen health systems through global engagement, cutting-edge research, high-quality training, and translation
of policy into practice. The interwoven values are the three tiers of equity, partnership, and respect.
Further progress was achieved over the past summer by a task force that developed a strategic departmental plan. Dacso boiled down the process to “You try to read the tea leaves. What should we be focusing on to address our partners’ needs?”.
The task force mapped out the existing global health infrastructure and aligned programs on campus, reviewed documents from international donors and public health agencies, and conducted internal faculty surveys, all to determine the global health
areas that would be both imperative to tackle and ripe for funding opportunities. They settled on four strategic focus areas: (i) emerging infectious disease, (ii) health policy and systems strengthening, (iii) health promotion, and (iv) sustainable
Graphic of GEHD’s Strategic Focus Areas (Source: Dr. Matthew Dacso)
Prior to GHED, global health had already planted deep roots throughout UTMB’s training and research programs. Such training often put an emphasis on content targeting interprofessional audiences, a notable example being the Global Health Scholarly
Concentration for John Sealy College of Medicine students. Regarding GHED-specific training opportunities, five courses are now officially registered, and the ambition is for a fully-fledged Global Health certificate to be ready by end of summer 2023.
There is also motivation to develop a One Health certificate as it naturally fits into the scheme of transdisciplinary efforts and infectious diseases. However, Dacso emphasized that One Health is not a framework exclusive to infectious disease but
should be perceived as a whole health ecosystem approach to address far-reaching issues such as chronic disease, food security, poverty, and inequitable social determinants of health. He credits a recent success story with a Nigerian partner program
(led by UTMB’s Dr. Scott Weaver, unpublished) to employing a One Health approach. It ultimately helped their collaborators extend typically limited communication channels and work across professions via clear identification of roles. “[One
Health] is just a great platform to help bring together different professions and build successful teams”.