The Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the largest global health programs in the United States. Two recent additions to the institute’s portfolio of health initiatives aim to improve understanding of the long-term effects of COVID-19, while improving community preparedness and capacity of UNC Hospitals for future medical and public health emergencies.
The Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the largest global health programs in the United States. Founded and led by Myron “Mike” Cohen, MD, Yeargan-Bate Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Microbiology, and Immunology and Epidemiology, and Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Health at UNC, the Institute has fostered an environment in which faculty, students, and the broader university community work together in unique, innovative ways to address critical issues in global health.
Two recent additions to the institute’s portfolio of health initiatives aim to improve understanding of the long-term effects of COVID-19, while improving community preparedness and capacity of UNC Hospitals for future medical and public health emergencies. UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases members and critical care experts Dr. William Fischer Dr. David Wohl lead both programs.
Longitudinal COVID Study
Over two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and researchers still are looking to answer some of most COVID-19 burning questions such as how common is long COVID, how well previous infection and vaccinations protect against re-infection with new variants of the virus, and what factors are associated with COVID rebound.
A new North Carolina study called VISION, funded by the N.C. Collaboratory, will enroll 7,500 adults recently diagnosed with COVID-19 to understand the different factors that impact individual risk for key clinical outcomes including recovery from acute illness, symptom rebound, re-infection, and long COVID.
VISION is the largest observational study of its kind in North Carolina. Those who join the study will complete regular online surveys about their health and 750 of them will also be seen in person for blood and nasal swab tests. Participants will provide data for up to 72 months.
VISION is the newest COVID study utilizing the centralized infrastructure of the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases to produce high quality research. This infrastructure has already allowed UNC to be a site for important clinical research, including the Moderna and Novavax vaccine trials and COVID therapeutic trials.
Regional Emerging Special Pathogen Treatment Center
UNC Hospitals has been selected to be a Regional Emerging Special Pathogen Treatment Center (RESPTC) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR). UNC-Chapel Hill was one of three sites selected to expand beyond 10 existing RESPTC sites across the US.
UNC School of Medicine’s Dr. William Fischer and Dr. David Wohl both members of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, will lead the new center, which is funded through a $3-million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR).
ASPR grants are designed to help bolster the country’s preparedness and capacity to respond to emerging pathogens during medical and public health emergencies. At UNC Hospitals, the grant will allow experts in critical care, infectious diseases and infection control to train and educate staff at UNC Hospitals, other hospitals, and clinics in urban areas and rural communities across the Southeast.
Fischer and Wohl, both of whom have directly provided care to patients with special pathogens such as Ebola, Lassa fever, COVID-19, and human monkeypox here and abroad, will lead implementation of plans and protocols to establish a special intensive care unit with capacity to care for two patients with special pathogens. Their plans will also account for expanding hospital capabilities should the need arise.
“UNC-Chapel Hill is perfectly situated to take on this responsibility,” said Dr. Cohen, founding director of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, the Yeargan-Bate Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Epidemiology, and associate vice chancellor for medical affairs. “Our long history and dedication to treating special pathogen patients in Africa, around the world, and at home, as well as our strong partnerships with North Carolina public health leaders, has prepared us to handle whatever might come our way.”
UNC first established the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases in 2007 to coordinate and catalyze global health activities across the campus. UNC Project-Malawi in Lilongwe and UNC Project-China in Guangzhou emerged as the first two flagship programs, both with a focus on preventing and treating HIV. As the institute has grown, so has its mission to make breakthrough discoveries, save lives and offer critical training to thousands of health professionals in the U.S. and in resource-limited communities around the world.