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“Small” Funding Leads to Big Results in Global Health

Established in 2015, the Hecht Global Health Faculty Network Award was created to provide financial support and encouragement for research and educational projects for junior faculty at Yale. Over the past five years, amounts from $5000 up to $50,000 were awarded for work that has seen exponential results with new partnerships, subsequent larger funding, recognition through honors and other awards, and sustainable programs.

The funding galvanizes activities critical to work supporting global health programs around the world, including efforts to strengthen partnerships, collect and assess data, and develop strategies key to problem solving for a wide range of global health issues. The award has also encouraged young researchers on their career paths. “The idea of supporting early career faculty in their global health careers was very attractive to me,” says Robert Hecht, Ph.D., professor of clinical epidemiology, Yale School of Public Health and President of Pharos Global Health Advisors in Boston. “I am thrilled to be investing in so many talented people who strive to have a positive impact on the health of the world’s population.”

Seed funding through the Hecht award has led to some big results. “Thanks to a $10,000 Hecht award, our team was able to secure another $100,000 from the Jacobs Foundation to pilot a youth-led early childhood education initiative in Colombia,” says Angelica Ponguta. M.P.H., Ph.D., associate research scientist, Yale Child Study Center. "That larger funding was possible because Hecht monies allowed us to explore the feasibility of implementing our ideas, exploring adaptations of already in place programs and establishing partnerships in Colombia.” Since receiving the award in 2018, Ponguta says their team has not only maintained enthusiasm for the program implementation among local government partners, but also has started an exchange among Pakistan and Colombia to promote other areas of research. Most recently, a team from Pakistan and Harvard traveled to Colombia to be trained in a quality assessment and begin the process of cross-cultural adaptation.

According to Michael Skonieczny, deputy director of the Yale Institute for Global Health (YIGH) through which the awards are distributed, these funds have grown into a significant source of support for faculty to use on diverse research and project work ranging from stigma reduction and HIV treatment in Russia to trauma and emergency training (pediatric) in Uganda, to improving the training of health workers in India for the prevention and treatment of Hepatitis C infection. “The idea behind this award is to not only help faculty be successful securing larger funding and research grants, but to also promote interdisciplinary and collaborative research across the Yale campus and around the world,” explains Skonieczny.

Associate professor at Yale School of Public Health Nicola (Nicky) Hawley says Hecht funding has been invaluable to advance her work and collaborations in American Samoa, Uganda, and Argentina and bring together interdisciplinary research teams from the U.S. and local institutions who are tackling issues related to chronic disease prevention and treatment. “Our Hecht funds financed our travel to country institutions and for our collaborators to visit us in the U.S.,” says Hawley who went on to explain that in the global health field much of the work is done by phone or over email at odd times of night and day and “face-to-face time with colleagues is transformative.”

Long term thinking begins with seed funding

While Hecht funding is often given to early-stage research and projects, some funding helped launch an idea. One such case is the Latin American Indigenous Health Network which is a partnership with Argentinian collaborators focused on developing an agenda research and educational activities related to indigenous health. When the research group applied for the award in 2018, the collaboration didn’t even exist. “We are extremely grateful to Hecht funding which helped us achieve our initial objectives and ultimately establish our network,” says Claudia Valeggia, co-principal investigator of the Network and professor of anthropology at Yale. Comprised of faculty from Yale Schools of Public Health, Nursing, Medicine, and the Native American/Indigenous Studies group at the School of Arts and Sciences, the Network addresses social, cultural, nutritional, and emotional changes that have a profound impact on the health and well-being of indigenous populations in Argentina and worldwide. Valeggia credits the award process to enable the Network to not only be cross-campus but an also an across the world collaboration.
“We often hear seed funding isn’t that impactful, but funding the Latin American Indigenous Health Network the Hecht Award is a perfect example of how even small amounts can help our faculty take a project to the next step or turn an idea into a reality,” says Skonieczny.

The diversity of funding recipients sets the Hecht Award apart from other funding often given for specific areas of research or specific fields or areas of expertise in global health. Nursing, anthropology, policy, social justice and law, health care administration and infrastructure and educational curriculum are just a few of the fields that have received Hecht funding. “Global health is affected by multiple areas outside of medicine and science – social determinants, demographics, culture, and environmental factors all contribute to the well-being of the world’s populations. I want this award to support work in as many fields as possible focused on improving global health,” says Hecht.

In 2016, two nursing focused projects were named Hecht winners, adding to the breadth of fields supported by the awards. To assist with the growth of palliative care infrastructure in Israel, Dena Schulman-Green, Ph.D., then a research scientist at the Yale School of Nursing, used Hecht funding to survey nurses’ educational needs in palliative and end-of-life care and to establish partnerships among Yale, Rambam Healthcare Campus and Yezreel Valley College to collaborate on training and research programs. As a result of this initial work, she received funding from Yale’s Center for International Nursing Scholarship and Education for further work with policymakers at the Israel Ministry of Health and to return to for additional studies. “Israel has a clear need for expansion of palliative care and hospice services, education, and research,” says Schulman-Green, now an associate professor at New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing. “This money enabled us to provide data for sustainable programs that further educate nurses and other palliative care practitioners, as well as patients and family caregivers, about management of serious illness and end of life care." In another project that highlighted the importance of nurses, Tracy Rabin, M.D, M.S., associate professor, Yale School of Medicine, used the Hecht Award to study what and how Ugandan nurses are taught regarding treatment and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). This work was part of greater efforts to address the rising burden of NCDs in Uganda.

NCDs were also the focus of Hecht winner, Jeremy Schwartz, M.D., associate professor of medicine and epidemiology, who received funding to examine disparities in the availability of essential medicines used to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs) across three East African countries. Dr. Schwartz, lead of faculty network development at YIGH, said that one of the goals of the Hecht Award -- encouraging collaboration -- was integral to spurring on his international work. “The Hecht Award was catalytic for my research program in Uganda in many ways,” says Schwartz. This study, in addition to other projects that he conducts through the Uganda Initiative for Integrated Management of NCDs, an organization that he co-directs and that arose with support from YIGH, paved the way for his first National Institutes of Health award in 2019.

Robert Hecht

Recent recipients have focused their work on other pressing global health challenges including; addressing the burden of sickle cell anemia in Uganda, heart disease in Pakistan, leveraging community resources to improve health outcomes for Ghana’s cocoa farmers and utilizing mobile technology to integrate mental health into primary care in Nigeria. “In my global health policy research over the past three decades, I have experienced many disappointments, but have also been fortunate to see the positive impact of my work over time, so I truly understand how important even a small investment can be to both short and long-term projects,” says Hecht.

“I am optimistic that research by Yale faculty with this award funding in areas like improving mental health services in Ghana, preventing chronic disease in Uganda, and addressing the health needs of indigenous populations in Latin America, will result in important improvements in the lives of people in low-income settings around the world."