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Meet the University Tackling China’s Biggest Public Health Challenges

Meet the University Tackling China’s Biggest Public Health Challenges main image

Sponsored by Duke Kunshan University

A professor in China has received a US$900k award to help turn the tide on China’s biggest health challenges.

The grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was given to Professor Shenglan Tang and his team at Duke Kunshan University to help China meet the United Nations’ health sustainable development goals and the Chinese government’s “Healthy China 2030” targets.

The United Nations’ sustainable development goals include ending the epidemics of tuberculosis, hepatitis and other communicable diseases and reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination by 2030.

In the past two decades, China’s already made huge strides in terms of its public health. A 1990 study of mortality statistics revealed that China’s health profile was on par with developing nations like Iraq and Vietnam, with 1 million child deaths a year and a life expectancy at birth of just 69.5 years.

People in China are now living longer though, with life expectancy up to 75.7 years. Also, the infant mortality rate dropped from 42.2 per 1000 live births to 11.7 in 2012, and the 179,000 annual deaths from tuberculosis in 1990 had fallen by 70% (GBD 2016).

Finding a solution

The story of how China came to tackle its crippling public health challenges in the past two decades is inspiring - but, with 0.8 million new case notifications of tuberculosis in the country every year - more than anywhere else in the world apart from India - the situation remains dire.

What’s more, China is facing health challenges it’s never had to wrestle with in the past. “Non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and cancers have been on the rise rapidly over the past few decades, now making up over 85% of all deaths in China in 2016,” said Dr Lijing L. Yan, head of non-communicable diseases research at Duke Kunshan University and Director of Graduate Studies, Master of Science in Global Health (MScGH).

These diseases, including high blood pressure and diabetes, are all relatively new to the country, having historically been associated with higher income countries like the US or the UK.

In an effort to help China tackle preventable diseases and these new health problems, the China-based Duke Kunshan University has become involved in working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Shenglan Tang, Executive Director of Global Health Education and Research Program and Professor of Global Health at Duke Kunshan University, said: “We have synthesized evidence and experiences of tackling public health challenges from China and other countries, and try to come up with practical and realistic policy recommendations for the Chinese government.”

With their new US$900k grant, the Duke Kunshan Global Health Research Center in partnership with Duke Global Health Institute, alongside three leading Chinese universities and two national policy think-tanks, are analyzing government data and evidence to help the Chinese government develop public health policy and programs to tackle the public health in years to come.  

This isn’t just a project involving senior academics though. Students enrolled on Duke Kunshan University’s MSc in Global Health have been taking part in the project, an experience which has allowed them to build their knowledge of data analysis and target projection. They have also been able to review international literature about disease control and global priorities.

Given this, it’s not hard to see the appeal of the postgraduate program for students passionate about public health. Propped up by strong support from the reputable Duke Global Health Institute and policy research experience under their belt, alumni have gone on to work for UN agencies, while others teach at universities and conduct research in institutes and think tanks in China and abroad.

All figures and statistics were taken from the World Health Organisation website.

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