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Working Across Borders: The Yale Global Health Justice Partnership

It’s a cold day in December, and nearly two dozen student and post-graduate fellows from six of Yale University’s professional schools have gathered at the Law School for a colloquium lunch with faculty members to discuss the work of global health justice, an emerging discipline located at the intersection of law, public health, and policy advocacy. The event is part of the programming and coursework organized by the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership (GHJP), a new collaborative effort between Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH).

The members of the group introduce themselves and their different school affiliations, as do the GHJP’s three faculty codirectors: Amy Kapczynski ’03, associate professor of law; Alice Miller, assistant clinical professor in the YSPH and adjunct associate professor at YLS; and Gregg Gonsalves, a Law School lecturer and a leading HIV/AIDS activist.

Gonsalves, the moderator for the day, introduces the guest speaker, Dr. Albert Ko, professor of epidemiology and medicine at YSPH. Dr. Ko’s presentation, “Urban Slums and Social Equity: Sewers, Rats, and Favelas in Brazil,” recounts his research in Brazil on the history of leptospirosis, an infectious disease whose emergence is directly tied to the development of slum settlements and the synergistic influence of poverty, geography, and climate.

The summary of his work provides a starting point for a general discussion about the interdisciplinary issues of global health justice. As Ko describes it, “This is work that began as a public health initiative, but in the end it evolved into a social justice issue.” After outlining the epidemiology of leptospirosis, a life-threatening bacterial infection spread by rats, Ko goes on to describe how his work to understand and limit the spread of the disease led him into intellectual disciplines that were at the periphery of his professional training, particularly at the intersection of health and law. One example Ko provides is how community organizers trying to combat leptospirosis and other diseases worked to invoke the Brazilian constitution and its guarantee of universal access to public health and sanitation.

In the conversation spurred by Ko’s presentation, the student and post-graduate fellows raise a variety of questions and offer multi-disciplinary perspectives on the work of global health justice. The discussion ranges widely but always returns to how to approach large-scale problems that combine issues of law, social science, clinical medicine, public health, and moral philosophy.

As Gonsalves concludes the discussion, he reminds the student and post-graduate fellows that one of the goals of the GHJP is to prepare a variety of professional disciplines with the interdisciplinary perspectives to address these emerging problems. “We want to build a community that is focused on issues of global health justice,” Gonsalves says, “and we view you as colleagues who are helping to shape the collective thinking about these issues, and the training that is necessary to address them.”

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