Our Favorite Global Health Stories of 2023

Highlights from DGHI’s research, education and partnership activities over the past year

Published December 21, 2023 under Around DGHI

At the end of each year, we spend a few hours scrolling back through the archives to select a few articles that capture the essence of the year that was. So what do this year’s selections tell us about 2023? If you had to pick a word, jet-lagged might fit best. Our faculty, staff and students hit the road to recharge partnerships and launch new projects, as well as to mark occasions such as the 10th anniversary of the Duke Kunshan University Global Health Research Center and DGHI’s first post-pandemic workshop among East African partners. So let’s take one more trip to wrap up 2023, revisiting some of the people and places that made it a memorable year. 

On the Road Again

In January, Chris Beyrer made his first trip as DGHI director to East Africa, where he got a close look at some of the institute’s longest-running partnerships – and also explored a new one. Here is Beyrer’s firsthand account of the trip, which included visits in South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda. That last stop, for a round of meetings at the University of Global Health Equity, set the stage for a wider partnership workshop in June, at which researchers from all four countries explored opportunities to collaborate on common health challenges such as surgery, cardiovascular care and mental health.   

Voices of DGHI

Nurturing the Seeds of Equitable Collaboration

DGHI director reflects on visiting some of the institute's longest-standing partnerships in Africa, as well as a promising new one.

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Chris in Kenya

11 Ways to be Inspired

DGHI’s seminar series, Think Global, put on 11 events during 2023, hosting rich panel discussions on topics such as public trust in science, innovation, environmental justice and cancer stigma. The events drew more than 1,100 attendees in person and online and have garnered more than 1,600 views on the DGHI YouTube channel. Forty-five panelists presented their work, including experts from Australia, Brazil, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Uganda.  Here are three of the most memorable events from the past year:

Krishna Udayakumar at Think Global event
Around DGHI

Experts: Public Trust Begins With Accountability

Around DGHI

Debating the Cause of the Next Pandemic

Around DGHI

Seeing an End to Preventable Blindness

A Board Game, and a Lesson

One of our favorite classroom moments happened in March, when DGHI adjunct professor Rukmini Balu asked students in her class on social determinants of health to play a game. Designed entirely by Balu after a year of research, the board game challenged students to navigate a series of life events and upheavals, designed to teach them how race, language or socioeconomic status affects a person’s odds of success. Balu’s creativity wasn’t just a hit with students – she also won DGHI’s undergraduate professor of the year at 2023’s graduation ceremony. 

Education News

Playing the Game of Life

Rukmini Balu invents a board game to teach her students about societal inequities in...

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Social Determinants of Health class

The Mutual Support of Coders

Many researchers find it challenging to turn their data into compelling graphs and charts. But it’s a particular headache for those in low-resource settings, where access to expensive visualization tools is limited. This article tells how a three-day workshop to introduce Kenyan researchers to R, a free data programming language, has turned into an ongoing exercise in capacity building. Led by DGHI’s Christine Markwalter and Zena Lapp, the workshop’s attendees were still connecting virtually to share projects and tips a year after the original session, forming a unique, cross-continental support group for developing new data skills.

Around DGHI

Cracking the Code

A DGHI workshop to help Kenyan partners elevate their research leads to ongoing...

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Christine Markwalter and Zena Lapp

Nursing Students Go Global

When DGHI began offering its Graduate Certificate in Global Health to students in Duke master’s degree programs in 2021, a notable pattern quickly emerged. Nearly one third of the students who pursued the certificate were in nursing programs. The trend makes sense, given the School of Nursing’s strong commitment to global education. And it comes as nurses are playing ever-more responsible roles in healthcare in many low-resource settings.  

Education News

Future Nurses Embrace Global Health Experience

DGHI’s graduate certificate offers a path for students in nursing and other fields to...

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Nursing student Kept Vildor in Tanzania

Global Warming and Kidney Disease

This may have been the year when science reporters discovered the connection between rising temperatures and chronic kidney disease, which is affecting a growing number of agricultural and industrial workers in tropical climates. A July article in Time Magazine dramatically labelled it as “the black lung of climate change,” a harbinger of the health impacts of a warming world. But DGHI’s Nishad Jayasundara has been documenting the rise in kidney disease among rice farmers in Sri Lanka for several years, and as our January story about his research notes, there is much we don’t yet know about the disease or what brings it on. 

Research News

What's Driving the Spike in Kidney Disease in the Tropics?

Researchers debate whether climate change or water contamination may be to blame. But a DGHI study in Sri Lanka suggests it could be both.

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Testing water quality in Sri Lanka

Planning for Policy Impact

How many DGHI researchers have longed for a way to tap into Gavin Yamey’s brain? In July, that became a real possibility, with the launch of the Core for Advancing Policy Engagement. Led by Yamey and Osondu Ogbuoji, the core allows institute faculty to enlist the services of our resident policy experts to ensure their findings are seen and acted on by healthcare decisionmakers. It’s an innovative experiment, and one that could help move more worthy research off the pages of journals and into real-world application. 

Around DGHI

Ensuring DGHI Research Doesn’t Sit on the Shelf

New core service allows faculty to enlist policy experts to help move research...

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Osondu Ogbuoji and Gavin Yamey

The Mental Health Burden of Cancer

Our colleagues at the School of Medicine published this riveting profile of Nosayaba Osazuwa-Peters, an associate professor of head and neck surgery with an appointment in DGHI. Trained as a dental surgeon in Nigeria, Osazuwa-Peters tells how a few chance conversations with patients undergoing treatment for cancer opened his eyes to their struggles with mental health. Those encounters inspired him to refocus his research on suicide prevention among cancer patients, part of his goal to mainstream discussion of how a cancer diagnosis and treatment can impact mental health. 


Improving Suicide Prevention Among Head and Neck Cancer Patients 

Nosayaba Osazuwa-Peters studies the often-overlooked mental health burden of living...

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Nosayaba Osazuwa-Peters

A Community Fights for Safe Sanitation

In October, a team of Duke researchers, including DGHI’s Randy Kramer, published results from a multi-year effort to spur action on the failing septic systems in Lowndes County, Alabama. The study was ground-breaking, and not just because it documented the generations of institutional racism and government indifference that created the crisis. It also showcased a unique collaboration with community organizers, which helped spur the federal government to intervene on behalf of residents of the rural county. Elizabeth Albright, the study’s lead author, describes it as “the most powerful, challenging work” she has undertaken. If you want to see how community action can work toward environmental justice, you couldn’t find a more compelling example. 


Community Collaboration Takes Aim at Failing Septic Systems and Environmental Injustice

A new paper by a team of Duke researchers examines longstanding environmental justice issues in Lowndes County, Alabama, and presents key findings from an innovative, multi-year collaboration with the local community aimed at addressing and resolving...

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Alabama research team

An Epidemiologist Turns Author

Emily Smith’s new book, “The Science of the Good Samaritan: Thinking Bigger About Loving Our Neighbors,” caught our attention for a couple of reasons. Published by Harper Collings in October, the book is the first for Smith, an assistant professor of emergency medicine. It’s also a deeply personal reflection, in which Smith shares a drive to pursue health equity that is informed by her faith. In this interview, Smith relates some of the stories from the book, including the harrowing experience of blogging about public health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Around DGHI

The Epidemiologist Next Door

DGHI's Emily Smith mines personal and professional experiences in a new book, which...

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Emily Smith and book cover

Madagascar, Beyond the Lemurs

If you wanted to draw a picture of DGHI’s interdisciplinary approach to global health, it might end up looking a lot like Charlie Nunn. An evolutionary biologist by training, the DGHI professor has built a wide-ranging research program in Madagascar that brings together aspects of conservation, land use, and animal and human health. This profile explores Nunn’s own evolution as a teacher and scholar, and how interactions with communities and partners in Madagascar have steered the direction of his research. 

Research News

The Evolution of an Evolutionary Biologist

DGHI’s Charlie Nunn went to Madagascar to study its unparalleled natural environment....

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Nunn in Madagascar with students and locals

The View from COP28

It seems fitting to close our look back on 2023 with a visit to COP28, the United Nations’ annual conference on climate change, which for the first time this year included a focus on health. DGHI master’s student Kalipa Gedion was among a handful of Duke students who attended the conference, and he shared his observations in this email interview. And while much has been written about whether COP28 will produce any meaningful progress in addressing climate change, it’s encouraging to see the motivation and passion for action from future leaders like Gedion. 

Student Stories

A DGHI Student's Dispatch from Dubai

At COP28, Kalipa Gedion says the new attention on the health impacts of climate change is likely here to stay.

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Kalipa Gedion  at COP28

And a few more ...

Okay, so a dozen stories just aren't enough to summarize the productive and innovative work that we reported on during the past year. So here are a few more stories that intrigued and inspired us:


HPV vaccines in China
Research News

The Duke Project Behind China’s Move to Expand Immunizations

Malaria training session
Research News

A Weak Link in Africa’s Defenses Against Malaria

Cattle herd in Africa
Research News

Lesser Known, But No Less Dangerous