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ODU Center for Global Health Moving to Address “Big Picture” at Home and Abroad

The Old Dominion University Center for Global Health continues to establish a strong local and international presence in 2014 with a new director and spate of "big picture" programming.

Dr. Muge Akpinar-Elci joined ODU in September 2013 and was appointed director of the center a month later. She now leads a burgeoning initiative within the College of Health Sciences that encourages an interdisciplinary approach in addressing global health issues at home and abroad.

"After several months as interim director, it is clear Dr. Akpinar-Elci has the vision, experience and ability to move the Center for Global Health forward as its permanent director," said Shelley Mishoe, dean of the ODU College of Health Sciences.

As 2013 wound down, the Center for Global Health's new advisory board gathered in December for its first meeting. The membership is composed of prominent leaders from academia and the Hampton Roads community, including: retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Ron Sconyers, president/CEO, Physicians for Peace; Edwin Burkett, director, Global Health Division and assistant professor, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; Susan Girois, alternate project director, Integrated Care Clinic, city of Norfolk Community Services Board; Regina Karp, director, Graduate Program in International Studies, ODU; Heidi A. Kulberg, health director, Virginia Beach Department of Public Health; Karen Remley, founding director, M. Foscue Brock Institute for Community and Global Health, Eastern Virginia Medical School; and Marcelo Siles, executive director, Office of International Programs, ODU.

One of the main initiatives of the ODU Center for Global Health is to institute a new (15-credit) online certification program in fall 2014, which can be completed in one year.

The proposed competency-based certificate program aims to provide comprehensive training in the global health field for graduate students and professionals who are practicing or plan to practice in a worldwide setting. ODU graduate students will be able to transfer up to six eligible credits toward the certificate.

Dr. Akpinar-Elci said graduates of the ODU Global Health Certificate program can expect to find employment in a variety of fields, including health-related governmental/non-governmental organizations, university research programs, international health care consultancies and multinational corporations.

"Global health shows us the big picture. Mistakenly, people assume that the target of global health involves mainly problems in the developing world, such as low- and middle-income countries," Dr. Akpinar-Elci said. "Diseases and health problems do not recognize borders. Neglecting to address health problems globally could affect public health, well-being and national security around the world, including developed countries like the United States.

"Therefore, to be able to address global health problems, increased awareness and education should be among the key solutions," she continued. "This approach reflects the vision of our center to improve the health and quality of life for people locally and around the world by leveraging the unique strengths of the Hampton Roads communities in education, research and outreach."

Dr. Akpinar-Elci received her M.D. from the Dokuz Eylul University School of Medicine and has more than 15 years of experience in clinical and field research, working in the public and global health arenas. She completed her residency training in both pulmonology and occupational medicine in Turkey. She also received a Master of Public Health degree from Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Dr. Akpinar-Elci most recently served as an associate professor and environmental and occupational health track director at St. George's University School of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, in Grenada, where she was also a member of the university's Institutional Review Board. Dr. Akpinar-Elci established a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Environmental and Occupational Health, in Grenada, and continues to serve as its director. Her work has been recognized with several international awards and she has published scientific articles and book chapters on occupational and environmental health and respiratory medicine. She has been awarded several grants, as principal investigator, from funding agencies including the United Nations Development Program/Global Environmental Facility.

Akpinar-Elci said the four main priorities of the ODU Center for Global Health are to:

  • Identify communities' needs and priority areas;
  • Build the capacity to launch a new global health certification program;
  • Create research collaborations with academia and community partners locally and globally; and
  • Increase faculty and student engagement in global health.

She added that alumni involvement in the center's work is a key ingredient.

"Our alumni are making an impact through their successes in a variety of professions, and we are confident they will welcome the opportunity to be at the forefront of our center's mission," Akpinar-Elci said.

Although she has been at the helm for only a short time, several programs have already been held on campus that highlight the overall mission of the Center for Global Health.

In September, plastic, reconstructive and burns surgeon Dr. Mohammad Ali Jawad screened the Academy Award-winning documentary "Saving Face," which featured his internationally renowned efforts to treat acid attack victims. In October, Dr. Akpinar-Elci presented a talk on "The Impact of Climate Change and Sea Level Rise on Public Health" during the international conference "Transatlantic Solutions to Sea Level Rise Adaption: Moving Beyond the Threat" that was organized by ODU's Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI). That was followed by two events in November, coinciding with International Education Week, that focused on "Global Health Education at Old Dominion University" and current initiatives in South Sudan to support and offer solutions to infrastructure problems in the newly formed nation. The Sudan event resulted from a collaboration between the Center for Global Health and Norfolk-based nonprofit Abukloi, which was founded by Angelo Marker, an ODU graduate and one of 3,000 orphans known as the Lost Boys of Sudan.

As the new year progresses, the ODU Center for Global Health is ramping up its presence in the community with three new initiatives:

  • "Let's Move Virginia Beach After School Program": This healthy lifestyle and environment partnership between the Virginia Beach Department of Health, Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation and the ODU Center for Global Health is intended to improve nutrition education and increase physical activity opportunities for school-age children.
  • Discerning the impacts of climate change on public health: ODU's Center for Global Health and Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative have prepared and submitted a proposal ("The Impacts of Climate Change on Public Health: Linking Adaption Policies and Public Perceptions") in response to the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Institute of International Education's Global Health Initiative.
  • Autism treatment training: The Center for Global Health is supporting and collaborating on a Dominican Republic-based project organized by Jonna Bobzien, of the ODU Darden College of Education's Department of Communication Disorders and Special Education, to provide training in current integrative approaches to the treatment of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

For more information, visit the ODU Center for Global Health website.

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