With controversial report card, debate over Yale’s global health efforts

In assessing global health contributions, UAEM ranked Yale 29th out of the 54 universities it evaluated.
In assessing global health contributions, UAEM ranked Yale 29th out of the 54 universities it evaluated. Photo by Jennifer Lu.

Yale is used to scoring high on rankings, but the University’s place on a global health impact report card fell far below expectations.

On April 4, the organization Universities Allied for Essential Medicines released its first ranking of various universities for their “contributions to urgent global health research and access to treatment worldwide.” The report ranked Yale University 29th out of 54 universities based on three categories: Innovation, Access and Empowerment. Yale received a D- in Innovation, a C in Access and a B- in Empowerment for an overall score of C-.

The report card scores are based on two types of data — publicly available information and supplemental questionnaires to deans and department directors at the universities — said Bryan Collinsworth, executive director of UAEM. Founded by Yale Law students in 2001, UAEM aims to compel universities to use a larger percentage of their funding for neglected disease research.

Yale School of Public Health Dean Paul Cleary raised strong objections to the report card’s methodology, calling it “so inaccurate, it’s hard to describe.”

Both Cleary and epidemiology professor Rafael Perez-Escamilla, who is also the director of the Office of Public Health Practice, took issue with how the UAEM report card ranked categories that were unanswered on the surveys. Cleary noted that assigning a zero for cases in which there is no response to a question “makes no sense.” Perez-Escamilla said though he understands the “frustration” of unresponsiveness, this method is scientifically incorrect.

But members of UAEM said numerically equating zeroes in the data with “no responses,” when the information was not available publicly, was purposeful and in the interest of promoting transparency. Hannah Brennan LAW ’13, who heads Yale’s UAEM chapter, said that if public data provides information on a certain topic the school will not be penalized with a zero.

“Sometimes, when we get no response, it doesn’t just mean that they missed an email — it shows a larger unwillingness to come to the table,” she added.

In an April 11 email to UAEM members and faculty of the School of Public Health, Cleary specifically took issue with the 1 out of 5 rating Yale received in international health grants. The report card stated that only 0.41 percent of the University’s total 2010 funding from the National Institutes of Health came from Fogarty International Center grants, suggesting that Yale is less focused on international neglected disease research than other research areas. Cleary said that since 2009, Yale has received 10 Fogarty Grants, which he suspects is “a very large number relative to our number of faculty members.”

Using G-FINDER, a public search tool that shows how much money Yale received for neglected disease research, UAEM calculated that Yale devoted roughly 2.65 percent of its total NIH funding to neglected disease research in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available. Because G-FINDER data accounts for more than just NIH funding, using its information means Yale’s score of 2.65 percent is “generous,” Collinsworth said.

Brennan said that Yale should be “proud” of its Empowerment score, which primarily focuses on public health education initiatives. Yale suffered low scores in licensing and research funding allocation due to a lack or responsiveness in Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research, which is responsible for the patenting and licensing of research and medication, Brennan said.

A major issue within licensing is that taxpayer-funded research does not necessarily benefit the taxpayers, Brennan said. Medicines developed by university researchers are often sold to large, for-profit pharmaceutical companies, which charge high prices for the medications, she added.

“Universities aren’t taxed because they do research for the public good, but then it doesn’t come back to the public,” Brennan said.

Perez-Escamilla said he thinks the only funding calculated in the report was the development of neglected disease medicines. This system does not factor in the funding for awareness programs, a large part of the field of public health, he said.

Cleary took issue with Yale’s low score in innovation, under which the neglected disease funding question falls.

“The building I am sitting in as I write this e-mail has 8 floors,” Cleary said in an email to UAEM members and School of Public Health faculty members.  “Since I arrived in 2006, four of those floors have been or are in the process of being renovated to create state of the art laboratory space, including a BL3 lab, and much of the research conducted on those floors is on neglected diseases.”

Perez-Escamilla said there has recently been “increased focus” on neglected disease research in the school. In addition to offering multiple elective courses related to global health, he said every lecture “highlights inequality of access to instill a sense of social responsibility” in students.

The School of Public Health was founded in 1915.

Comments