Published July 17, 2023
In a bid to support a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of achieving global health equity by 2030, the University at Buffalo has launched a first-of-its kind Master of Science in International Development and Global Health (MSIDGH).
The intensively interdisciplinary program is designed to address widening gaps in human health globally through the socioeconomic, environmental and geopolitical arenas of international development.
“With this program, UB is reimagining the global health landscape, redefining the way we look at health inequities facing communities today, and the methods and partners we engage to address such inequities,” says Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah, PhD, UB associate professor and interim chair in urban planning and director of the new program. “Through interdisciplinary and experiential learning, the MSIDGH will prepare students as agile problem-solvers attuned to the path-dependent, broken and unjust systems behind global health disparities.”
From water stress and poor sanitation to inadequate housing for refugees, and from the looming crisis of drug-resistant pathogens to the rise of novel viruses, the factors behind global health inequity are highly complex, requiring coordinated action across sectors at every scale. At the root of the problem are legacies of political, legal and economic systems and social norms that exclude traditionally marginalized populations from power and resources. Indeed, the most glaring divides in health equity can be seen today in postcolonial and settler-colonial contexts throughout the Global South.
Tackling these vast and multifaceted challenges requires a new approach to education and training, according to leaders of UB’s new program – one that breaks down disciplinary and industry silos and zeroes in on questions of social justice.
Jointly hosted by UB’s Schools of Public Health and Health Professions and Architecture and Planning, the MSIDGH combines coursework as diverse as refugee health, the politics of water, epidemiology and infectious disease, the built environment and health, and environmental planning. A signature of the 36-credit program is a semester-long field placement where students will conduct focused research through direct engagement with community stakeholders in diverse global settings.
Students from any undergraduate major are eligible to apply, particularly those with backgrounds in public health, environmental design and international development. The program also serves as a post-professional path of study for those working domestically or overseas in the global health and international development arena.
Launching in Fall 2023, the MSIDGH is the curricular outgrowth of a nearly decade-long research, education and community engagement effort in global health equity at UB. Following the same transdisciplinary model, UB’s Community for Global Health Equity (CGHE) convenes experts in the health sciences with architects, urban planners, engineers and social workers to develop innovative policy solutions and tools that improve global health equity. Since its founding in 2015, the CGHE has mobilized internationally funded research on sustainable and equitable food systems, refugee health and housing, environmental health including safe and accessible water and sanitation, and child and adolescent health. The center also hosts the Global Health Innovation Challenge, which engages students from across UB to problem-solve complex questions in global health and helped inspire the new degree program.
Frimpong Boamah, who is also co-director of the CGHE, says MSIDGH students will work closely with many of CGHE’s affiliated faculty, with opportunities to align their field experience with ongoing research in settings as diverse as Ghana, Kashmir, Bangladesh, Uganda, Nepal, Jamaica and Colombia. “The MSIDGH provides a key educational platform to translate UB’s pioneering scholarship as training for tomorrow’s global health and development workforce,” he said.
Emphasizing a model of collaborative learning, the program’s field semester demonstrates the value of local knowledge to addressing global health inequity, adds Katarzyna Kordas, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health and co-director of the MSIDGH. “Similar to CGHE’s model of community-driven research, the MSIDGH field experience is about mutual learning and giving,” said Kordas, whose research has taken her to communities in Uruguay to study the effects of environmental exposure in children’s health.
Program directors say the MSIDGH will focus heavily on the legacies of colonial policies as enduring structural precursors of privilege and bias as barriers to global health equity. This intentionality will be embedded throughout the curriculum and supported by lectures and visits from global practitioners, maintaining space for organic dialogue within each cohort. “As faculty and students, we will explore how our own silos, disciplines and geographies impact our ability to frame problems,” Frimpong Boamah said.
Prior to the field experience, students will spend a month studying their research question at the local scale, here in Buffalo. “The goal is to have students understand how to view problems in an interconnected way,” said Frimpong Boamah, adding that COVID-19 was a wake-up call on the importance of local-to-global coordination. “For example, students might trace how sanitation issues, such as electronic waste in Accra, Ghana, relate to our hyper techno-consumerist behavior in Western countries.”
Upon completion of their field work, students will codify and present their findings for dissemination through academic and professional networks in global health and international development.
Graduates of the program will be well positioned to take on work with government agencies, think tanks and international and local nongovernmental organizations including the World Health Organization, U.S. Agency for International Development, United Nations and the World Bank.
The diversity of the incoming class to-date mirrors the program’s inspiration. Current registrants include students with degrees in engineering, public health, sociology, international development, biology and global affairs. An international mix, the students hail from New York, Michigan, Washington, D.C., Ghana and Tanzania. Many already have international field experience.
“We invite you to join us here at the University at Buffalo as we mobilize a groundbreaking interdisciplinary endeavor to address global health disparities and support the development of equitable, sustainable and enriching communities for all,” says Frimpong Boamah.