Academic Global Health Programs: How Were They Affected by the Pandemic?

rose headshotElizabeth Rose, EdD, MPH, MEd, and colleagues, recently published their study, “COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Academic Global Health Programs: Results of a Large International Survey,” in Annals of Global Health (volume 88, issue 1). Using surveys and interviews, these investigators evaluated the effects of the pandemic on educational, research, and administrative aspects of Academic Global Health Programs (AGHPs) worldwide. This study is the first of its kind to investigate the impact of the pandemic on AGHPs. As interest in global health has grown over the years, the number of AGHPs has increased and understanding the impacts of these programs are vital to planning for and working toward equity in the global health field.

The team had several key findings regarding education, research, and administration in AGHPs. In education, most programs reported well-coordinated responses and adapted by shifting to virtual teaching, and interviewees described a desire to maintain a level of hybrid teaching. AGHPs displayed promising adaptiveness in their rapid shift to remote training. However, not everyone had equal access to internet connectivity and computers, and work is needed to level the field.

Research initiatives were more negatively impacted as travel halted. The impact on scholarly outputs and funding in education and research spaces was variable within and across countries. Scholarly output tended to decrease or remain neutral among AGHPs, with greater negative effects for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) than for high-income countries (HICs). Changes in research funding depended on the institution. Some respondents described a decrease in funds because of reallocations to research focused on COVID-19, while others noted freeing up funds due to no travel costs as researchers shifted their work remotely. 

Finally, when considering effects of the pandemic on the administration of AGHPs, HIC administrators reported more suspensions of incoming/outgoing travel, demonstrating higher risk-averse tendencies. Among HIC administrators, there was more of a focus on outgoing travel to LMICs, reinforcing the common notion of global health work being unidirectional from HICs to LMICs. 

The team’s findings have several implications for AGHPs and the global health field as a whole. Most significantly, the pandemic has introduced some beneficial changes to AGHPs, including a shift to online learning and remote research collaborations. Most respondents documented that virtual collaboration and teaching will remain a part of curricula. Online platforms have the ability to expand collaborations and reduce costs for travel, which can be reallocated to research or other improvements within AGHPs. Understanding these findings and leveraging the benefits of remote collaborations could help increase worldwide access and contributions to global health education and research, possibly contributing to a greater equalization of this field.