By Tyler Greer
The diseases are familiar. So are the state’s rankings.
Alabama ranks 46th in obesity, 48th in diabetes, and 49th in high blood pressure, among other metrics. Turning these numbers more favorable is a grand challenge that Mona Fouad, M.D., director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center — and her team — have accepted.
On Tuesday, the University of Alabama at Birmingham named Fouad’s “Healthy Alabama 2030: Live HealthSmart” project the winning proposal of the university’s first Grand Challenge, a key component of Forging the Future — UAB’s strategic plan. As the winner, Fouad’s team will receive a three-year, $2.7 million award from the university to fund the initial effort.
“Our health is everything,” said Fouad, a 2018 electee into the National Academy of Medicine. “It is the core of good quality of life, productive employees, successful students and happiness in general. We must do better by our citizens. We must educate, reach more people where they are and not put Band-Aids on problems, but work collectively to change our paradigm and improve our state’s health so we as Alabamians can reach our full potential.”
Fouad’s comprehensive approach to fixing these complex problems includes 90 partners on her Grand Challenge team from government, business, education and more in both leadership and advisory roles.
“It is very fitting — and by design — that we embark on our Grand Challenge in UAB’s 50th anniversary year, and it is equally fitting that a nationally recognized pioneer in health disparities research like Dr. Mona Fouad will work with a large team of collaborators to solve our state’s most complex health problems,” said Ray L. Watts, M.D., president of UAB. “She has assembled an impressive coalition of collaborators and supporters from our university and across the state. UAB’s phenomenal growth and success over five decades have been fueled by intense collaboration and innovation, and those very strengths — in their fullest measure — will enable us to achieve our Grand Challenge.”
Grand Challenges are ambitious goals that have the potential to capture the public’s imagination. They are designed to increase support for policies and investments that foster innovation. They also serve as compelling “North Stars” for cross-sector and multidisciplinary collaboration.
“Like America’s goal to put a man on the moon, Grand Challenges have a history of catalyzing innovation for the benefit of society,” said Christopher Brown, Ph.D., vice president for Research at UAB. “When we announced this endeavor, we said it would unite university activities — teaching, research, scholarship, commercialization, patient care and service — along with the capabilities of partnering organizations to solve large-scale problems affecting Alabama.
“Our rankings indicate the health of our state is a large-scale problem. The team Dr. Fouad has assembled will find the solutions needed to positively impact those numbers, which will help our citizens achieve better health and propel our state forward,” he said.
Fouad’s ambitious project aims to elevate the state of Alabama out of the bottom 10 in national health rankings by 2030. Her plan will utilize a systematic and comprehensive approach to make significant improvements in key health metrics over the next 10 years.