Queen’s gets a “D” on global health report card

Student club grades the University’s efforts to improve access to medical treatment

Queen’s Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) graded the University’s research on neglected diseases and its commitment to improving access to treatment.
Queen’s Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) graded the University’s research on neglected diseases and its commitment to improving access to treatment.

The Queen’s branch of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) gave Queen’s a “D” grade in a report released today for its failure to improve access to life-saving drugs in low-income areas.

The report card’s methodology is based on a series of report cards that other UAEM branches across Canada and the United States produced in April.

In the original report, UBC received an A-, while the University of Toronto was given a D+ and McGill a C-. Comparatively, Harvard University received a B-.

The Queen’s UAEM president, Varoon Mathur, ArtSci ’15, said the report is meant to provide the club with hard evidence on neglected disease research while it seeks to change University policy.

“From us, a group of 19 or 20-year olds ... it doesn’t sound like anything,” Mathur said. “With the data, we have real numbers, so that’s what gives us a legitimate claim.”

He said the report aims to raise awareness on campus about neglected diseases.

The report is divided into three sections: access, empowerment and innovation.

The access section focuses on efforts to improve access to medical treatment.

The section on empowerment, meanwhile, looks at resources on campus devoted to global health, and the innovation section measures the amount of research on neglected diseases.

The World Health Organization lists 17 neglected diseases that are highly prevalent in underdeveloped areas, but receive less attention than well-known diseases like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Queen’s received F grades in the access and innovation sections, since Queen’s has no stance on improving access to medical treatment and conducts few studies on neglected diseases.

However, Mathur said, it’s not as bad as it looks. He said most universities fared poorly in the reports.

“In terms of innovation, there are a lot of universities that have an F, as well as [in the access section],” he said. “It’s the empowerment section of the survey that is variable.”

Queen’s received a B for empowerment, mostly for its Office of Global Health at the School of Medicine and its graduate courses on neglected diseases.

The study is slightly different from the original studies, he said, because it’s unfair to compare Queen’s to larger research-oriented institutions.

Unlike the original reports, he said, the Queen’s report includes malaria and AIDS research, and makes special mention of non-medical research.

“We’ve looked at social impact, we’ve looked at gender inequalities in the context of HIV,” he said. “We wanted to give that some credit.”

However, it doesn’t address how we actually tackle this disease, he said, so it didn’t get factored into the score.

“That happens on the biomedical front, in the lab,” he said.

He said the score was hurt in part because Queen’s hasn’t made its official stance on global health and neglected diseases clear.

Bryan Collinsworth, executive director of UAEM, said the original studies didn’t include Queen’s because of its medium size.

“We took the top five [largest universities] in Canada and the top 50 in the United States. Queen’s wasn’t quite high enough on that list,” he said.

It was the first time the organization had done such a study, he said, so they only looked at the largest research institutions.

According to Collinsworth, the Queen’s study is more subjective than the original report, since the Queen’s branch studied a single university in-depth rather than using large public databases.

“That does change the nature for a large part,” he said. “Ours was more comparative.”

Collinsworth said the study still holds weight, since the Queen’s branch used the same methodology as the original reports.

However, he said, the Queen’s project was mostly independent from the international organization.

He added that the organization plans to come up with a new evaluation every one or two years to hold universities accountable.

The central aim of the report cards, he said, is to illustrate the potential for improvement.

“What’s more important than the letter grade is the opportunity for doing innovative work in areas of global health that have been neglected,” Collinsworth said.

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