When Peter Small, MD, deputy director of the Tuberculosis Delivery Program for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a global expert in some aspects of tuberculosis epidemiology, biology and control, steps into the role of inaugural director of the Stony Brook University Global Health Institute later this year, he will be heading up a health science research center tasked with leveraging the unique opportunity afforded by the complex ecosystem of Madagascar and its connection with the Malagasy people.
Spearheaded by scientists and philanthropists Jim and Robin Herrnstein, the Global Health Institute will join forces with Stony Brook’s Centre ValBio to conduct internationally led health science research for the benefit of the Malagasy people, while collaborating with PIVOT — a new nongovernmental organization co-founded by the Herrnsteins and incubated by global health giant Partners in Health — to establish a sustainable healthcare infrastructure in one of the world’s poorest nations.
Stony Brook has a longstanding relationship with Madagascar, which possesses one of the most biologically diverse and important ecosystems on the planet. For nearly 30 years, scientists and students in Stony Brook’s Centre ValBio research station, led by Patricia Wright, a Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, have been working with local populations to improve conservation efforts and the people’s quality of life. Centre ValBio and its newly built NamanaBe ”Friendship” Hall, a 15,000-square-foot research facility located on the edge of Ranomafana National Park, will serve as a key resource for the Global Health Institute, which is based on Stony Brook University’s main campus.
The partnership is special for two reasons, said Jim Herrnstein, who has a PhD in astrophysics. First, “Centre ValBio has been there for 30 years and Pat [Wright] has a wonderful infrastructure in a remote area where there’s a huge need.” And second, “at the same time the Global Health Institute is coming to life, a new NGO [PIVOT] is coming into existence. We’re hoping that those two will work together and feed off each other. There’s no substitute for having people on the ground doing healthcare in the villages, collecting data and experiencing firsthand what the actual health issues are.”
Everyone will be doing what he or she does best, said Jim’s wife, Robin Herrnstein, who also has a PhD in astrophysics. “People with PIVOT will be working on actually delivering healthcare, and the University will focus on research and education, but we’re all doing it together, at the same place and at the same time.”
Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD, who is a nationally renowned expert in the field of emerging infectious diseases, believes that the benefits of this partnership will likely extend far beyond Madagascar.
“Global health is an immediate problem for everyone,” he said. “With today’s jet travel, there is no more natural isolation. Controlling and containing infectious diseases in other regions helps prevent their spread around the world, so advances in health delivery and implementation can have positive impacts in the U.S. as well. As we think globally as an institute and as a country, the benefits of promoting health worldwide are immense.”
In addition to its research mission, the Global Health Institute will collaborate with Stony Brook University schools on educational and outreach initiatives, including awards to conduct innovative global learning projects that involve a partnership with local governmental organizations.
The Institute will benefit from a $10 million endowment, which to date includes a $3 million gift from the Herrnsteins, a $3 million matching gift from the Simons Foundation, and $2 million from an anonymous donor.