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Eva Harris, PhD

Professor of Infectious Disease
Director, Center for Global Public Health
UC Berkeley

“I’m always optimistic,” exclaims Eva Harris, PhD, with enthusiasm, when asked about her motivation and passion for global health. Harris has been working to improve human health in several of the poorest Latin American countries before the term global health even became a common catch phrase. Traveling regularly between the Bay Area and countries such as Nicaragua over the last 23 years, she has witnessed the incredible power and impact of collaboration - not only between “north-south” but also “south-south” partners. “So much has changed and there has been a lot of progress,” says Harris.” I am always inspired every time I come back. It’s always moving forward.”

Harris, trained as a molecular biologist at Harvard University and UC Berkeley, has reached far beyond her laboratory to find solutions to global health problems. Her laboratory in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health continues to make significant discoveries about the pathogenesis of infectious diseases, specifically Dengue and influenza. However, she stresses the critical need to translate those discoveries into practical, effective and sustainable interventions.

“There are three levels - research, with an academic base; rollout into the community; and then policy,” says Harris. She also emphasizes that these solutions are most effective when they are developed by an empowered local community in which they are needed. “It’s about sharing knowledge, tools and resources... for them to develop their own solutions - not us giving them the model. Our (US) model isn’t usually the best one. We have to ask what works in their context for their specific problem. There are also deeper issues here. It might be a health problem, but what about the underpinnings for inequities and structural, economic issues?”

The need to examine global health problems from a wider perspective necessitates the alignment of disciplines and using multi-disciplinary approaches to find solutions. This environment already exists at UC Berkeley, says Harris, making the campus an excellent hot spot for global health thinking and action. Since 2007, Dr. Harris has been the Director of the Center for Global Public Health (CGPH), one of the two organizations that make up the Berkeley Alliance for Global Health, the campus-wide effort to solve major global health challenges through the integration of life sciences and bioengineering with public health. The other organization is the Henry Wheeler Center for Emerging & Neglected Diseases (CEND). The Alliance brings together the multi-disciplinary spectrum of approximately 80 faculty and projects already happening at UC Berkeley in collaboration with partners in over 55 sites in developing countries. With the booming interest and demand from students, who have already formed 35 student groups related to global health issues, program offerings in education, events, training and research are rapidly expanding. Harris describes UC Berkeley as a campus brimming with global health activity - on multiple levels and across most major disciplines. “There is an incredible richness here,” she says.

When asked about her vision for the future, Harris says: “I envision the Bay Area becoming a hub for global health. With all of the activity here at UC Berkeley and across the bay at UCSF, there are already so many areas where we collaborate. I’m really excited about us finding ways to work together. We don’t have a medical or nursing school like UCSF; rather, we bring together the Schools of Public Health, Journalism, Business, and Law, the Colleges of Letters and Sciences and Engineering, and the Center for Human Rights. This adds important breadth to the discussion of global health.”

Harris’ enduring optimism and energy continue to propel her forward in her mission to help developing nations create sustainable solutions to global health problems. “One puts the knowledge and resources in the hands of people to examine their own problems and develop solutions, counting on the best of what the world has to offer,” says Harris. “That’s what global health is about - solutions for local problems around the globe.”

Photo credit: David R. Léon Lara