globalhealth
Photo: Yolanda Chen

Don’t stress too much over your B in calculus — Penn gets bad grades too.

The University Report Card: Global Equity & Biomedical Research, released in April, gave Penn a C+ for its efforts in advancing global health. This score positioned Penn 21st out of 59 American universities, in terms of research allocation to neglected diseases, commitment to socially-responsible licensing and global health education opportunities.

“Nearly a third of humanity does not have regular access to essential medicines, and in the poorest parts of Africa and Asia, this figure rises to over 50%, leading to ten million deaths annually from treatable diseases,” Executive Director of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines — who compiled the report card — Merith Basey said in an email. “Meanwhile, universities are public institutions whose medical research is primarily funded by government grants that come from taxpayer dollars,” she said.

“They have a duty to the public to fulfill their social missions and ensure that the results of their research are available to those who need them most,” she added.

UAEM is a student-led non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that university research and commercial outputs reach the people steeply affected by the high prices of life-saving drugs.

UAEM first released their report card in 2013. The original report card was met with criticism for having a limited scope and a misleading representation of information. Since 2013, the advocacy group has revamped their methodology and presentation of results to more clearly indicate the specific aspects of global health that the scoring system assesses, such as neglected diseases research and intellectual property.

The report card assesses schools in three distinct areas of global health commitment: innovation, access and empowerment. Report card data collection consisted of online research by UAEM members as well as surveys filled out by the academic institutions themselves. Metrics covered a wide variety of global health indicators including percentage of grants and publications allocated to neglected diseases, proportion of non-exclusive licenses and the availability of global health degree programs and courses.

While Penn’s letter grade remained unchanged in the second iteration of the report card, Penn’s position relative to its peer institutions fell. Though the original report card also gave Penn a C+, it ranked 8th among its 54 fellow universities, compared to its rank for 2015. In the 2015 report, Johns Hopkins University received the highest letter grade given, an A-, and was the only university to achieve that score. Penn was one of ten universities to receive a score of C+.

Lack of response by the University to survey questions posed by UAEM regarding global access licensing contributed to the low score. Regardless, some students feel that the report card suggests areas of improvement for Penn to better serve the medical needs of the world’s poor and to remain competitive with other leading institutions.

“As our grade reflects, more work needs to be done, said rising College junior and Executive Vice President of MedX Sophia Tareen. MedX is a student organization for those interested in healthcare. MedX also functions as Penn’s UAEM chapter. “Penn and MedX should strive to streamline the process of knowledge and tech transfer. More than anything, [we] should use this grade as an impetus for change, not simply to help ourselves, but to improve the state of global health overall,” she said.

Rising College junior and President of MedX Albert Hong agreed with Tareen and said that the discrepancy in medical treatment between those who can pay for it and who need it complicates the matter tremendously. “Unfortunately, healthcare is an intricate web of money and incentives. Penn’s report card score highlights this complexity, which is good because we need to educate students about this so that they can make the best decisions possible when they are healthcare leaders in the future,” he added.

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