Taking Health Research Global: One year of propelling interdisciplinary and collaborative Global Health Research

One year ago, the German Alliance for Global Health Research was launched as an initiative to tackle today’s global health challenges via interdisciplinary and collaborative research. Since then, more than 600 researchers from publicly-funded institutions in Germany have joined.

The German Alliance for Global Health Research (GLOHRA) was initiated by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to forge new links and mechanisms of cooperation – across research disciplines, institutions, sectors and countries. The importance of this mission has gained additional traction as GLOHRA was established in February 2020, just as the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread around the world. This health threat has confirmed the need for of scientific collaboration.

Early in its first year, GLOHRA members elected an interdisciplinary and gender-balanced Steering Committee, the initiative’s key decision-making body. To ease collaboration and contact among researchers, the Global Health Research Directory was created as Germany’s first public database of global health researchers. Efforts at community-building have been further supported with funding for interdisciplinary research proposals and scientific events, including two sessions at the World Health Summit 2020. The Global Health Academy will act to support the next generation of researchers and is planning activities for 2021.

GLOHRA is part of an evolving global health strategy. “The mere exchange of information via publications and conferences, isolated collaborations and multi-center studies is obviously not enough to find joint solutions to urgent issues such as dementia, infection or cancer. It is in this broad context of new ways of organizing and funding research that I see GLOHRA. The complexity of major health issues, as we can see very well just now with the COVID-19 pandemic, demands collaborative rather than merely competitive research,” argues Walter Bruchhausen, Professor for Global Health at Universitätsklinikum Bonn and GLOHRA co-speaker.

Germany has profited from an ongoing exchange between policy makers and scientists – indeed Christian Drosten, Director of the Institute of Virology at Charité Universitätsmedizin – Berlin and one of the founding members of GLOHRA, has become widely-known for his ability to infuse pandemic-policy with scientific insights. Yet virological insights are only one piece of the puzzle – it is clear that we also need epidemiologists, psychologists, pediatricians and others to form a full picture. Eva Rehfuess, Chair of Public Health and Health Services Research at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and GLOHRA co-speaker, advocates for such cooperation: “The pandemic has shown how essential interdisciplinary approaches are. The process often takes more time and energy – we use different languages and methods – but the result is always better!”

This collaboration is necessary because health is global. Meral Esen, Group leader for Clinical Trials and Immunology at the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Universitätsklinikum Tübingen and co-speaker, elaborates: “In this era of globalization we are seeing how closely health outcomes are interconnected. Viruses and diseases do not respect borders. As researchers we should reflect this reality in our approaches in the lab, in the field and in the implementation of our findings.”