The Department of Public Health Receives Two Grants to Bolster Research Innovation and Community Support

The University of Balamand, along with Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST), the University of California in San Diego, and Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) in Morocco, has obtained a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a joint project called “The GeoHealth Hub for Climate Change and Health in the Middle East and North Africa.” The $ 3 million grant will be shared by all collaborating institutions to implement the project over the course of 5 years. The partnership also includes the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Center for Environmental Health Action, the University of California Berkely, Harvard University.

Leading the project at the University of Balamand is Dr. Myriam Mrad, assistant professor and chairperson of the Department of Public Health. The aim of the GeoHealth Hub is to address the impacts of climate change on health and the environment, identify areas of development, build capacities, and train higher-education personnel in Lebanon, Jordan, and Morocco on air pollution and water quality modeling techniques and advanced environmental epidemiology methods. This project has great transformative potential for the region because “regardless of variabilities and nuances, most of the countries in the region suffer from similar environmental problems which can all be traced back to the same root cause: limited and ineffective environmental health policies,” said Dr. Mrad. The development of environmental health strategies requires political will, but it also depends on the production of high-quality research and reliable evidence to direct and inform said strategies. Higher education institutions in the Eastern Mediterranean Region have a great role to play in climate action, and that is in improving the quality and increasing the volume of climate and environmental health research and building the capacities of their personnel to increase the number of experts in the field.

In her letter of support to the project, Dr. Huda Abu-Saad Huijer, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, echoes the same sentiment: “our vision for FHS is to become a world-class Faculty of Health Sciences, transforming education and health care and being responsive to the needs of the population.” Dr. Abu-Saad Huijer expressed her commitment to sustain the exchange of knowledge beyond the period of the NIH funding through adjunct/teaching/visiting professorship positions. “We have the required infrastructure, and we are looking for international collaborations to launch [the GeoHealth Hub] in the best possible way,” said Dr. Abu-Saad Huijer.

In addition to the NIH grant, the Public Health Department has received a joined grant of $40 thousand from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) funded by USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance. This project is in collaboration with the Society for the Advancement of Science and Technology in the Arab World (SASTA). This grant aims at strengthening Primary Health Care Centers (PHCC) in remote Lebanese areas through the integration of digital health solutions, such as deploying electronic systems of appointment scheduling and offering synchronous and asynchronous teleconsultations where access to healthcare providers is limited. The project will tackle three areas of intervention: immunization, reproductive health, and mental health. Most notably, to enhance vaccination rates in remote and underprivileged communities, the project builds on the success story of UOB’s vaccination center in North Lebanon, and it enjoys the support and the valuable expertise of Dr. Youssef Bassim, Chief Operating Officer of UOB, and key expert in integrating information technology and its applications into health care management. Dr. Myriam Mrad, who has conceptualized the project and is representing the University of Balamand in this collaboration, explains that digital health solutions for PHCC beneficiaries can mean improving access to high-quality services as well as reducing wait time, work absenteeism and transportation cost. They also protect from disruption of care delivery in the event of future pandemics or other nationwide events that can impede access to care.

As we celebrate the University of Balamand ranking second in Lebanon for the third year in a row in the QS World University Ranking, it is worth emphasizing that UOB ranked first in Lebanon when it comes to the Faculty-Student ratio. The remarkable feats that UOB has accomplished, despite being the youngest among the 8 most established Lebanese universities, are a testament to the tireless commitment of UOB and its faculty to provide high-quality education despite all challenges. This is why projects like the GeoHealth Hub are crucial to continuing to build on the strengths of the university, train and invest in faculty members, and provide both faculty and students with research opportunities. It is also important to transfer that wealth of knowledge and creativity into innovative interventions that can benefit and improve the health and wellbeing of our communities. ​