The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has teamed up with a Chinese university in a collaboration intended to strengthen the response to global health threats — which, as the coronavirus pandemic has shown, do not respect national borders.
The partnership, announced Thursday, pairs Harvard’s estimable public health school with the newly founded Vanke School of Public Health at Tsinghua University in Beijing, led by the former director general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan.
“The solutions for the biggest threats to global population health today won’t come from any one institution or one continent. It’s going to require a multidisciplinary, multilateral, global response,” said Michelle A. Williams, dean of the faculty at Harvard Chan School.
The two schools will engage in shared education and research, in infectious diseases as well as other cross-national issues such as climate change and microbes that have developed resistance to drugs. These issues require a coordinated, global response, Williams said. And the world can respond more nimbly to such threats if its leaders have forged connections by training shoulder to shoulder in programs like this.
The collaboration will enable students from Vanke to take courses at Harvard Chan and for Vanke researchers to spend time at Harvard developing research partnerships. Professors from both schools who share interests will plan joint research projects. A course being developed in the spring will engage students from both schools in field research that may be in the United States or China.
Asked about the political tensions between the United States and China, Williams said, “That’s for the politicians.” Public health leaders, she said, can cooperate “if we have trained together, if we have studied together, if we know we share the ethos of public health as a human right.”
In addition to the academic collaboration, Williams and Margaret Chan have founded a Global Coalition of Deans of Schools of Public Health to strive for international coordination in public health. A core group of 16 to 20 deans from around the world plan to meet in two weeks to talk about how their schools can work together, Williams said.
The Vanke school, although planned for some time, happened to open in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020. Williams served on the school’s international advisory board and approached Margaret Chan to discuss ways the two schools could work together.
The partnership is nothing new for Harvard’s public health school, Williams noted. Two years after the school was founded in 1913, three Chinese doctors came to study, its first international students. Just last month, Harvard Chan established an exchange program with Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China.
And Harvard Chan has partnerships with universities and governments around the globe. A Harvard collaboration with the Botswana Ministry of Health was the first to identify the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.