2019 Councilor Candidate
Albert Icksang Ko, MD
Yale School of Public Health, U.S.
I see as key issues that will shape the Society’s future: 1) the impact of environmental and social processes, such as urbanization and climate change, which make it increasingly more complex to control and prevent tropical diseases and disease emergence, 2) the importance of emerging NCDs in a collective vision of global health as well as our efforts to control infectious diseases, and 3) the need for new paradigms for multi-disciplinary training and creating leadership among young fellows in a climate of decreased funding for global health capacity building. These challenges have been well-recognized by ASTMH and are being by addressed by the Society’s initiatives at building curriculum, policy and advocacy. I would work towards emphasizing specific initiatives within this spectrum of responses.
The Society is a leader in raising awareness of the role of social inequity, climate change, conflict, movement and migration in the burden of tropical diseases and emerging infections. I strongly support this mission and would seek to highlight the gains made towards intervening in these upstream processes as well as disease-specific control measures. I have served as a reference for evidence-based information and policies for researchers, journalists and the general community during the recent Zika pandemic and served on WHO commissions for Zika, other emerging infectious diseases and the Research and Development Blueprint initiative. I would be poised to contribute to the Society’s mission of identifying key areas of future needs and growth in tropical medicine/emerging infectious diseases, as well as serving as an advocate for these priorities.
I also believe that the Society has a unique opportunity to channeling the capacity and training created by the large successes that its members have achieved globally in decreasing the burden of infectious disease, towards the emerging threat of NCDs in resource-poor settings. The society, through its many associated training networks and workshops, is well-positioned to disseminate best practices in preparation for the epidemiologic transition that will occur in resource poor settings.
The Society has made impressive gains in extending its global reach during the past twenty years, as evidenced by the diversity of its members across regions and disciplines and the cohorts of young LMIC fellows who have become internationally-recognized leaders in research and public health practice. We are at a critical point where decreases in the long-term investment in training threaten our future public health impact as well as the Society’s diversity and leadership pipeline. I have experience in establishing and promoting global health research programs in LMIC and U.S. settings and am committed towards serving as an advocate for the Society’s efforts to promote global health training and raise funds for travel fellowships and awards. I would use my links with partner tropical medicine societies in Latin America such that we can leverage efforts to disseminate workshops, curriculum and successful initiatives such as the Fogarty “mentoring the mentor” programs.
Summary of Volunteer/Member Roles in ASTMH
Dr. Ko has been an ASTMH member since 2004 and has been committed to forwarding the society’s mission by promoting urban slum health, global health training and the career development of young investigators. He has presented in symposia (2004, 2010, 2013, 2017) and organized symposia (2010, 2014) that focused on emerging infections in urban slum health, rat-borne leptospirosis and disease emergence at the interface between urbanization and climate change. Similarly, Dr. Ko is participating as an instructor in the Global Health Pre-Meeting Course for the 2018 ASTMH Meeting on the “Global Health Impact of Urbanization and Megacities”, which aims to explore the global health risks given the dramatic increase in urban population growth. Dr. Ko gave the Charles F. Craig Lecture in 2016 on the response to the Zika outbreak in Brazil and had worked with Judy DeAcetis and the ASTMH communications department and participated in press conferences in order to promote the society’s role in disseminating information on Zika. Dr. Ko has an active role in global health training in the society, having presented in symposia, most recently the 50th anniversary symposium for the Fogarty International Center, as well as participating in workshops at annual meetings in the role of the Program Director of Fogarty Training Programs. Since his return the U.S. in 2010, Dr. Ko has served each year as a judge in the society’s Young Investigator Competition.
Dr. Albert Icksang Ko, an infectious disease physician, is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases at Yale School of Public Health. Prior to joining Yale in 2010, Dr. Ko was stationed for fifteen years at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazilian Ministry of Health in the city of Salvador as a Weill Cornell Medical College faculty. Together with his Brazilian colleagues, he established a research and training program in 1995 which addresses the health challenges that have emerged as a consequence of rapid urbanization and social inequity. His team’s investigations of large outbreaks of Weil’s disease and pulmonary hemorrhage syndrome raised awareness for the emergence of rat-borne leptospirosis as an urban slum health problem. Dr. Ko’s research led to genome sequencing of the agent for urban leptospirosis, the initial demonstration of homologous recombination in the spirochete, and identification of the first virulence factor in Leptospira. These investigations have in turn enabled the development of rapid diagnostic tests and identification of sub-unit and attenuated vaccine candidates by the Brazilian Ministry of Health. Dr. Ko’s team has been conducting community-based prospective studies on leptospirosis since 2002 which have delineated the drivers of transmission in the urban slum setting and guided multi-level interventions that have been implemented in Brazil. Dr. Ko has held leadership and advisory positions in the leptospirosis research community which include coordinating the WHO-sponsored global burden of disease study of leptospirosis.
The research conducted by Dr. Ko’s team on leptospirosis created the infrastructure in Brazil to address a spectrum of urban health problems that include bacterial meningitis and vaccine preventable diseases, dengue and more recently, the Zika pandemic in the Americas. Since November 2015, the research program mobilized their efforts to investigate the outbreak of Zika-associated microcephaly in Salvador and contributed to the early reports of congenital Zika syndrome. Ongoing investigations are prospectively following community-based cohorts to characterize the long-term sequelae of congenital Zika syndrome among children and factors, such as prior flavirus exposure, that may influence the risk of transmission and severe outcomes.
Parallel to his research efforts, Dr. Ko has had a long-standing commitment to building a model training program on urban slum health. He served as Program Director of a Fogarty Global Infectious Disease Training Program (1997-2012), Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholars and Fellows Program (2004-2012) and Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellows Program (2011-present) in Brazil. He is currently the Yale Program Director of the Fogarty Global Health Equity Scholars Program (2013-present). Dr. Ko has mentored 62 Brazilian fellows, 24 of whom have become university professors and several of whom have received NIH R01 awards and Wellcome Trust Fellowships. He has trained more than 40 U.S. medical and doctoral students, of which 17 were Fogarty or Fulbright Fellows. Since arriving at Yale, Dr. Ko has worked with colleagues to enhance the global health mission of his infectious disease epidemiology department, which has grown to comprise of 17 professor-level faculty and leads NIH-supported research and training program in 21 international sites.