Global Health

April 4, 2024

Q+A with Muktar Aliyu, MD, DrPH, MPH

Muktar Aliyu, MD, DrPH, MPH, answers questions about the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health.

Muktar Aliyu, MD, DrPH, MPH, is director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health (VIGH) and professor of Health Policy and Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He holds the Endowed Directorship in Global Health. VIGH facilitates the expansion and coordination of global health research, technical assistance and training initiatives at VUMC.

What do you see as the most pressing global health issues for the next five years?
In no specific order, first, addressing noncommunicable diseases, especially heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death globally. Second is addressing the impact of climate change — rising temperatures, extreme weather events and environmental degradation — on health. Because of climate change, we’re seeing more mosquito-borne diseases, heat-related illnesses, asthma and respiratory allergies. Third is preparing for the next pandemic. We have to be ready with better surveillance, diagnostic tools, improved vaccines and more effective prevention approaches.

What are some of your goals for VIGH?
A main goal is bringing young faculty on board who will help diversify our portfolio. Also, we’re expanding into more research areas. For example, Michael DeBaun, MD, MPH, is conducting research on sickle cell disease in Nigeria, and Edwin Trevathan, MD, MPH, is researching childhood epilepsy in Africa. We’re expanding our geographic reach into areas such as Central and South America and parts of Southeast Asia. We are also working to better address diversity, equity and inclusion in our recruitment, retention and career advancement activities.

How is VUMC uniquely positioned to effect change in global health?
VUMC has established strengths like vaccinology, personalized medicine, genomics, cancer epidemiology and bioinformatics. Those are skill sets we can easily translate to global settings. We’ve recently been able to leverage our research infrastructure to develop valuable research training programs globally. For example, Carlos Grijalva, MD, MPH, has been funded to develop a vaccination training program in Peru in partnership with the Instituto de Investigacion Nutricional and the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia.

What message do you have for clinicians and investigators about global health?
There aren’t borders when it comes to health, and there’s no such thing as an exotic disease. Someone with chikungunya fever can get on a flight and land anywhere. We need to be aware of what’s going on in the world and become knowledgeable and ready. Also, global health experiences complement and enhance learning for our trainees and improve their perception of different cultures. VIGH exists to facilitate, assist and foster global health programs.

(This story also appeared in Medicine magazine)