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New study shows Georgia’s strength as a global health hub

Cover of 2020 Georgia Global Health Landscape Study

By Maria Saporta

Georgia leaders instinctively have known the state is a leading hub for global health.

But for the first time ever, a first-ever “landscape study” has the numbers to prove it.

The Georgia Global Health Alliance on Thursday released its first comprehensive look at Georgia’s global health sector – based on data collected before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among its findings:

  • It identified 232 organizations – from nonprofits, universities and foundations – involved with global health. Of those, it was able to collect data from 157 – meaning the study under-represents the actual impact of the industry in Georgia.
  • The global health sector contributes to at least 33,450 local high-paying jobs – direct, indirect and induced.
  • The organizations work in at least 150 countries around the world.
  • The industry contributes an estimated $3.3 billion to Georgia’s gross domestic product.
  • The average annual salary of the 12,163 direct jobs was $94,000 – more than double the average salary of Georgians.
  • The heart of Georgia’s global health industry is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has about 8,600 full-time equivalent employees and a total Georgia payroll of $1 billion.

“We have long been the crossroads for global health,” said Maria Thacker Goethe, executive director of the Georgia Global Health Alliance, which conducted the study with assistance from the RTI International research firm. “This report is a starting point on how we talk about Georgia global health.”

Maria Thacker Goethe

The report used a similar model as a regular study the Washington Global Health Alliance in Seattle has done over the past 10 years. The first study by WGHA only included six organizations while its latest 2018 study included 260 entities. Seattle and Atlanta are considered to be two of the leading hubs of global health in the country, if not the world.

“Their study is much more comprehensive,” Goethe said. “We are still trying to identify everybody. There has not been an effort to quantify the industry in Georgia before this study.”

While it hasn’t been quantified before this study, there’s been growing awareness of the importance of Atlanta and Georgia as centers for global health – especially during the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Global health is really local,” Goethe said. “We have health disparities right here at home.”

For example, one major issue will be to build trust among all populations to get vaccinated against the virus.

Also, there’s been a coalescing of Georgia’s global health community into a stronger alliance with the creation of the umbrella group – Center for Global Health Innovation – under the leadership of Goethe. CGHI has four divisions: the Georgia Global Health Alliance, Georgia Bio, Georgia BioED and the Global Health Crisis Coordination Center, which was created earlier this year as a vehicle to organize public and private response to the pandemic.

2020 Georgia Global Health Landscape Study’s employment chart

In addition to the CDC, Georgia’s global health sector includes the Carter Center, Emory University, Morehouse School of Medicine, the CDC Foundation, the Task Force for Global Health and hundreds of other organizations. The mission is to catalyze collaboration, innovation and coordination throughout global health, life sciences, and health technology ecosystems to enhance health outcomes around the world.

“We have a remarkable number of organizations here in Georgia that provide an excellent example of how powerful collaborations can be,” Goethe said. “This initial study demonstrates our unique strength in the sector. We plan to do another study with 2020 data.”

Goethe said the goal is for the global health community to produce “landscape” studies on a regular basis to track growth in the sector as well as capture all the organizations that did not participate in the first study. Because it uses a similar study structure as those done in Washington State and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. The San Francisco Bay Area also is planning to conduct a similar study. Eventually it would be possible to compare data among the nation’s leading global health centers.

“This is not an easy report to pull off,” Goethe said, adding that she hopes the community will receive outside funding to commission the report every year or so. “This is a starting point to build from. Our numbers are very conservative.”

Social media post with finding from the 2020 Georgia Global Health Landscape Study

For example, the $3.3 billion economic impact numbers did not account for philanthropic gifts totaling billions of dollars. Emory University received a $180 million grant, the single-largest ever in its history, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Georgia’s universities contributed over $1 billion in health and life sciences research in 2018 alone.

“Funding for research and innovation is critical to combating global health issues, like COVID-19, and achieving global health security,” Goethe wrote in the opening letter of the report. “Additionally, university research brought to market can generate value-add through new knowledge creation, development of intellectual property, attraction of human capital, commercialization of technologies, and others.”

The study also reinforced the importance of having the CDC based in Atlanta. Many of the state’s global health organizations gravitate around the presence of the CDC, the only major federal agency based outside of Washington, D.C.

While Goethe did not want to discuss the political controversies that have swirled around the CDC during the past year, she did say it is “valuable and helpful” to know how the future administration of President-elect Joe Biden will view the agency. Biden has announced that his pick to lead the CDC is Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“If approved. Rochelle Walensky is an excellent choice,” Goethe said. “Dr. Walensky is well respected, and she will be a thoughtful advisor to President-elect Biden. We look forward to meeting her.”

But Goethe said that what is most important is to support public health workers, including scientists and researchers who are the backbone of Atlanta’s global health community.

“The public health community is tired,” Goethe said. “Public health workers want to know someone is advocating for them.”

Cover of the 2020 Georgia Global Health Landscape Study

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Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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