Health Care

UM conference focuses on global cooperation to combat health threats such as Zika


As Florida continues to grapple with rising numbers of Zika virus infections, a conference at the University of Miami Monday stressed global interdependence and cooperation to help combat health threats, including pandemics.

The spread of diseases such as Ebola and Zika demonstrate that what happens in one country can quickly affect other countries, said UM President Julio Frenk as he opened the annual Business of Health Care conference focusing on “going global.”

Health, he said, is now “a global security issue.”

And the Affordable Care Act, along with similarly vast healthcare changes in Mexico and China, can offer lessons to the rest of the world on what to do — and what not to do. Other countries may not adopt “but might adapt” what the U.S. has learned from expanding health insurance access through the ACA, Frenk said.

“It’s hugely important to evaluate what happens here ... It also creates this global public good that then many other countries can learn from. And that ends up benefiting everyone. That’s where I see that global dimension.”

He focused repeatedly on the role that universities such as UM play in advancing healthcare. University research is one of the prime drivers of new knowledge that, in a global context, can improve health in places far beyond South Florida or even the United States, he said.

The conference came as Florida health officials announced four new cases of confirmed Zika infections, including two in Miami-Dade County and one in Broward, bringing the statewide total to 71. The majority of the cases, 32, have occurred in Miami-Dade and have been travel-related.

Zika virus, spread mostly by mosquito bites, has become a pandemic, spreading explosively across Latin America and the Caribbean, with more than 20 countries reporting local transmissions. Although symptoms are generally mild in otherwise healthy adults, the risk is greater for pregnant women because of recent findings in Brazil linking an outbreak of Zika and a concurrent spike in microcephaly, a birth defect.

UM will host a forum focusing on Zika for public health officials, physicians and scientists on Wednesday to discuss the medical implications of Zika, research findings and local preparedness.