A headshot of Dr. Deus Bazira
Category: University News

Title: Global Health Scholar Deus Bazira To Lead New Global Health Institute

In his new role, Bazira will harness and amplify Georgetown’s strengths in global health developed over the last two decades by convening and mobilizing researchers and students for broader impact. 

Bazira, an associate professor of medicine in the School of Medicine, is a renowned scholar in strengthening health systems and a public health practitioner with decades of in-depth, field-level practical experience working and building partnerships in emerging economies. He also serves as founding director of Georgetown’s Center for Global Health Practice and Impact (CGHPI), which he will continue to lead. 

“We are grateful to have the leadership, expertise, and experience of one of our world’s leading global health scholars,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “Dr. Bazira joined our community in 2019 and in the years since, has demonstrated a deep commitment to collaboration, an ambitious vision for how Georgetown can contribute to global health, and a deep understanding of the values that guide our mission.” 

Bazira has deep experience in the communities that his work focuses on. Born in Uganda, he grew up at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in an environment where access to health care was a privilege – an experience, he says, that shaped his ultimate goal: strengthening the resiliency of health systems that are self-sustaining and ensuring equitable access for all to optimize individual and population health outcomes. His professional journey led him from Uganda to South Africa and then to Maryland before he settled in Washington, DC.

Building and strengthening the global health community at Georgetown, and creating a platform that allows us to collaborate as an institution, will help elevate and amplify our work,” Bazira says. “We will also be better positioned to undertake interdisciplinary work, to take advantage of opportunities that a faculty member, center, department or even a school wouldn’t be able to do on its own.”

Moving the Needle on Global Health 

The Global Health Institute (GHI) builds on the foundation of Georgetown’s university-wide Global Health Initiative, which, for the past five years, modeled how a collective approach to global health at Georgetown could work. The Global Health Initiative was launched in 2017 as an interdisciplinary platform for supporting research, teaching, scholarship and service in global health. 

GHI provides an elevated focus and structure to connect global health-related initiatives across Georgetown’s schools and campuses. Its work will be informed and overseen by the executive vice presidents of main campus, the Medical Center and Georgetown Law, reflecting the university’s broad-scale commitment to global health

“This institute aims to be the platform that brings together the entire Georgetown global health ecosystem under one umbrella so we can have a full appreciation for what Georgetown faculty, researchers, students and staff are doing in global health,” Bazira says. “It will help us explore areas of collaboration between the different schools, departments, centers, institutes, labs, faculty and students interested in global health work. It will enable us to more effectively work in the areas of research, education and service.” 

Bazira noted that a faculty advisory committee and external advisory council will be formed in the next 12 months to bring diverse perspectives to the GHI, including from the private sector, government and the nonprofit space. He will oversee a small core administrative team based at the institute and will work collaboratively with schools and centers to support communications, grant development and implementation, and data management infrastructure.

Learn more about Bazira’s vision for the GHI, and how it will build bridges across the university’s many strengths in global health. This interview has been edited for length and readability.

Q&A With Deus Bazira

Q: How does the GHI play to Georgetown’s strengths and embody its values? 

Bazira: We approach global health issues from an interdisciplinary approach, and also our work is grounded in the values that guided our founding as an institution: that for global health work to really matter, we must follow a whole-person approach — cura personalis — in order to impact all aspects that influence people’s health and well-being, prioritizing those most disadvantaged. 

As a Catholic, Jesuit institution, we have historical relationships that make us unique. In many countries, the faith sector is the second largest provider of health care, and equally, faith-based academic health institutions play a key role in educating health leaders in many parts of the world. We are well- positioned to build partnerships with other faith-based health care and academic networks to make our global health work more impactful than any other academic institution. GHI will prioritize building these partnerships to further our research, education and practice initiatives.

Building effective partnerships means respecting our partners. We listen to what the country’s needs are, what their problems are and also what their suggested or proposed solutions are. Then as an institution, we figure out where we can most add value. We should undertake research that is informed by the needs of the people we seek to serve and ensure that research output benefits those communities.

Q: For Georgetown, the people-centered approach is a part of its ethos and way of being. Does that transfer to work in global health? 

Bazira: Yes, it’s part of the lifeblood of Georgetown as an institution. I think when you look at Georgetown’s values and the way we educate, the way we do research and the way we do service, it’s always been people-centered. What we have to do in the global health space is to make that very deliberate and very clear and make sure that in all our work, we would always, always put that front and center. I must add, that is our key differentiator. We are a values-driven institution.

Q: How does the GHI connect to and support other health-related initiatives at Georgetown?

Bazira: What we aim to achieve is that all existing and future global health-related faculty, centers, institutes and initiatives at Georgetown will become constituents of and active participants in the Global Health Institute. The idea is to not replace nor duplicate what the schools, centers and departments are doing in global health. Rather, the institute will seek to amplify their work, offer support and mobilize additional resources to make their work more successful and extend their reach. 

We also plan to look at other university initiatives that may not be primarily focused on global health, but that have something to contribute to global health, such as climate-related initiatives, and explore concrete ways we can collaborate. Through this institute, we are going to create a sort of ‘market exchange’ for global health practitioners and scholars at Georgetown. 

I believe our institute is poised to make significant contributions to amplify the impact of global health interventions. As a new institute, the sky is the limit for us.

Dr. Deus Bazira

Q: What are some of GHI’s research goals and education goals in the near term?

Bazira: We intend to continue with ongoing education and research support initiatives that were previously under the Global Health Initiative, for example the GHI fellowship where we bring students and faculty together to work on common projects and interests. 

We also want to work on augmenting global health education programs at Georgetown through new courses in interdisciplinary global health training. These can be taken by any doctoral student or any master’s student who is interested in studying global health, but they may also have their primary focus, say as a Ph.D. in biology or business, for example. What we want to do is to enrich the experience of students who enrolled at Georgetown and have an interest in global health, to find an offering of something unique that they want to be able to get in their current program — regardless of their specialization.

On the research side, one of our key goals is to increase extramural global health funding coming to Georgetown. In addition, we want to stimulate internal research through seed funding initiatives. The current global health funding approach is a very competitive one. You’re competing against tens of thousands of other researchers out there who may have more institutional support. 

A medical student wears a white lab coat and looks through a microscope in a lab.
A researcher at Georgetown University’s Medical Center.

Finally, we’d like to give an opportunity to young investigators in global health to break through, because it’s not easy to come up with a fundable research application when you’re just beginning as one investigator. GHI can help you identify seed funding to start you off.

Q: What of your previous experience do you feel is going to position you well to help the center achieve its goals? 

Bazira: One of my roles is to focus on engaging and coordinating key stakeholders, mobilizing resources to support the work of the institute, connecting individuals for collaborative work and establishing business processes. Another role is to rally key stakeholders, mobilize and help create the necessary conditions for the Georgetown global health community to achieve the mission. This latter role requires one to build bridges, harness the power of many, incentivize collaborations with the understanding that no one individual can make this institute succeed. 

I am a firm believer in building institutions that outlast their leaders and constituents. This may be because I have worked most of my life in contexts where I understand first-hand the threat to sustainability when individuals get placed above institutions. Here, a foundation is already established that I will help build on. 

I have been on both sides of global health issues, as part of a community that is more often a recipient of development assistance for health, capacity-building efforts and one that faces major impediments to realizing health as a right for all. Additionally, I represent a constituency that is not always at the table where key global health decisions are made. At the same time, I have had the privilege to engage at a global level. That lived experience enables me to see things from different perspectives in that regard. I’ve spent the last two decades essentially trying to bring the two worlds together. How do we take this scientific evidence and create real impact in people’s lives, strengthen health systems, quickly spread proven innovations and, if I may add, stop investing in and doing things that don’t work?

“We want to enrich the experience of students who enrolled at Georgetown and have an interest in global health find something unique that they want in their current program — regardless of their specialization.”

Dr. Deus Bazira

Q: When we think about Georgetown’s role in the global health space, what are some of the big topics that you think will benefit from the GHI? 

Bazira: I think one challenge in the global health community can be narrowed down to lack of integration and sub-optimal collaboration in what we do as a global health community. Global health practitioners have very successful interventions that are in some ways very siloed. Over the last two decades, the world has rallied to effectively fight HIV/AIDS— one the greatest public health challenges of recent times before COVID-19. But then when COVID-19 hit, we found ourselves not prepared, as the world, to actually address this pandemic. 

I think Georgetown could be one of those few actors in global health that could try to figure out the best way of working with different stakeholders, countries and communities and be part of the global community, to ensure that we are building resilient health care systems that can take care of day-to-day essential healthcare needs of people. At the same time, these systems have built-in capacity that when the time comes, if there is a pandemic, they can quickly be repurposed to deal with an epidemic or an outbreak or health event, without compromising essential public health functions and health care for the rest of the population.

Georgetown can be one of those organizations that figures this out and comes up with models on how we effectively integrate the day-to-day healthcare work with pandemic preparedness. An important piece in all of this is getting the people who are most affected to be involved in the design, research and translation of the evidence into delivery and also in the monitoring and measurement of outcomes.

Q: It sounds like the pandemic is a really good example for how law and policy come into play here. 

Bazira: What the pandemic did is really expose the disparities and inequities in the world. You start seeing the interconnection of all these different things coming together — income inequalities, gender disparities, racial inequalities and political disenfranchisement, name it — all these ultimately manifest in health inequities. 

To solve global health problems, we need everyone to play their part and we need to rebalance how global level decisions get made and who makes them. At the implementation level, we need to change the engagement model and make the process truly people-centered — from the community all the way up to the highest political level. And I cannot overemphasize the importance of law in global health issues. Georgetown as home to one of the premier global health programs in the world is best positioned to demonstrate how law can be used to reduce health inequities around the world.