Although the University of Alberta considers itself a world leader in public research, it scored a grade of C on the newly released University Global Health Impact Report Card.
Created by the Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), the report was published April 4 and measures 14 performance indicators in innovation, access and empowerment to determine the U of A’s rank as 22 out of 54 North American medical research universities.
The report primarily focuses on each university’s methods of addressing the research gap for neglected global diseases and the equitable and socially responsible dissemination of biomedical discoveries.
But School of Public Health dean Lory Laing, who leads the university’s Global Health Initiative, says the U of A’s grade doesn’t accurately reflect its commitment to local and global medical research.
“Our priorities are elsewhere, (not just neglected diseases,)” Laing said.
“I think the U of A focuses on vulnerable and disadvantaged groups locally and globally — not just on medicines and neglected diseases, because there are global health issues that are much broader than (those).”
UAEM staff and students compiled data for the report through publicly available sources, such as search engines and university websites, as well as through self reporting from university officials.
The U of A scored particularly low in innovation, receiving a D- despite priding itself on discovering knowledge through research and education.
Ravendra Naidoo, UAEM Alberta president and a student at the U of A, believes the grade reflects a lack of attention on the U of A’s part to global neglected diseases.
“We may be very innovative in cancer research and heart disease research, (because) these are the things that get most of the funding — over 90 per cent of the funding in medical science,” Naidoo said.
“With neglected diseases at the U of A, our percentage of the research budget for these diseases is 0.05 per cent, so it’s tiny. I think it’s just not a priority for the U of A.”
However, Laing believes the report fails to address positive impacts the university is making in the field of medical research.
“It’s a very narrowed report, and it doesn’t capture the many really outstanding things that are happening here in terms of global health,” she explained.
“By focusing on neglected diseases, it ignores the things ... that we are known for, in terms of Hepatitis C vaccines, (for example). Hepatitis C is not a neglected disease, but it is a huge global burden of disease that affects low income countries in a big way.
“We were one of only two Canadian universities that were listed on this. Could we therefore presume that we are (among) the top two universities in Canada, in terms of global health impact?”
But U of A Associate Vice-President (Research) Renee Elio said the U of A’s high educational assessment on this survey — a grade of A- in the area of Access — is something to be proud of.
“The survey is important, because it draws attention to what we in North America, with so many resources, can be doing for the global community,” she said.
“It causes Canadians to think and to broaden our perspectives on how our research and training programs can and should have impact in places outside of Alberta and outside of Canada. Through discussions like this, we draw attention to some key examples on how the U of A is contributing to global health.”
A pre-emptive press statement from Naidoo on April 3 initially placed the U of A at 46 out of the 54 institutions listed, with a grade of D, instead of C. According to a statement on the UAEM Alberta website, information from TEC Edmonton brought the grade up to a C.
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