U-M SPH signs MOU with China CDC

September 17, 2012 by

University of Michigan School of Public Health today signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s national CDC in Beijing, as a basis for research collaboration, joint publication, and training exchanges. It’s believed to be the first such agreement between China’s CDC and a U.S. school of public health. At right in these photos is U-M SPH dean Martin Philbert. At left, on behalf of the China CDC, is Dr. Xiaofeng Liang, the Deputy Director-General.

U-M SPH Professor of Epidemiology Matthew Boulton and other University of Michigan personnel were on hand for the signing in Beijing. Boulton, who has worked on building partnerships with China for several years on behalf of U-M SPH, reported that U-M SPH’s first joint NIH grant with the China CDC was just submitted within hours of the MOU signing. It is titled “Vitamin A in Measles Illness and Immunity in Chinese Children,” and it includes as principal investigators Boulton,  fellow U-M SPH epidemiologist JoLynn Montgomery, and the head of the China CDC  measles lab, Yan Zhang, M.D., Ph.D.

U-M SPH Dean Martin Philbert said after the MOU signing ceremony at the CDC: “It is vital that we acknowledge Matt Boulton’s leadership role [with] our partners across China.” For U-M SPH’s growing work with global public health, Dean Philbert sees this most recent MOU as “a significant but logical step in something much larger.”


From Plans to ACTION: U-M SPH and Peking University SPH move forward together

March 19, 2012 by

Update from Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A., September 2012: A research and training Memorandum of Understanding and Scholar Exchange Agreement with Peking University School of Public Health has been realized! PKU School of Public Health Dean Meng, Associate Dean Peiyu Wang, and a delegation of faculty representing the school’s 5 departments visited Ann Arbor in September 2012. During that visit, U-M SPH hosted a formal signing ceremony for the MOU and Exchange Agreement, as well as a lunch reception on Monday, September 10. Faculty from the two countries explored opportunities for research collaboration and training exchanges, and students from U-M SPH joined the discussion.

Signing of the MOU on Sept. 10, 2012 at University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Earlier information on the partnership, from March 19, 2012:

Pollution from smokestacks in China can reach the West Coast of the U.S. in just a few days. A disease from America can reach China in about 14 hours on a flight from Detroit. “The idea that a communicable disease happens over there and has no chance of impacting us – those days of security are gone,” said Martin Philbert, dean of the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Dean Philbert and Dean Meng

That’s why Dean Philbert (left in photo at left) thinks the University of Michigan School of Public Health should form a partnership with Peking University’s School of Public Health.  The two schools can promote collaboration through the  formation of pilot projects, through the exchange of scholars – both faculty and students – and where appropriate technical staff. They can learn from each other and  put together interventions that work for people wherever they are and improve health for all. Dean Philbert explained his idea for a Population Health Institute in a meeting at Peking University in late February 2012. He made the announcement after he and 11 other SPH professors spent the day with their counterparts at Peking University discussing their research interests.

Meng Qingyue, the dean of Peking University’s School of Public Health, agreed that the two schools should begin discussing such a collaboration and suggested that a delegation from his university visit Ann Arbor soon. UM’s Medical School and Health System have already joint institute programs with Peking University that promote collaborative research.

A faculty delegation from U-M School of Public Health, led by Dean Martin Philbert (front row, 5th from right), with Peking University School of Public Health faculty, meeting to talk about new ways to collaborate in a global public health.

A worldwide friendship: Jianli Kan and Matthew Boulton

March 8, 2012 by

Dr. Matthew Boulton at left and Dr. Jianli Kan at right, at the national China CDC in Beijing February 2012.

“Jianli and I have been friends and colleagues for almost 15 years,” says Matthew Boulton. “We worked together at the Michigan State Health Department for about 5 years when I was the Chief Medical Executive. The two of us literally drew up our ideas for establishing a scholar exchange and research collaboration between UM SPH and Tianjin CDC & China CDC on a dinner napkin in a Beijing restaurant in fall of 2005 and launched a year later.” Read more about this partnership.

Dr. Jianli Kan is currently Director of the Epidemiology Office for the China CDC; Dr. Matthew Boulton is an associate professor in several departments at the University of Michigan and directs the  UM SPH China CDC Scholar Exchange.

Q&A with Wu Fan, director of the CDC in Shanghai

March 2, 2012 by

Wu Fan is the director of the Shanghai CDC (SCDC) and a rising star in the field of public health in China. She wowed the visiting University of Michigan group with a presentation in fluent English that provided a sweeping overview of all of the initiatives in her mega city, with a total population of 32 million. She graciously accepted my invitation for a quick interview on the sidelines of a daylong conference between UM faculty and her staff. Here are some of the excerpts from the conversation:

Q: Why is the Shanghai CDC interested in partnerships and collaborations with universities and institutions around the world? 
A: Public health is a global issue. We are in a big family. It doesn’t matter which country you live in. We all face similar public health threats and problems. Rich countries and developing countries all face the similar issues. For example, climate change affects everyone. Infectious diseases have no boundaries. An infectious disease may start from developing countries, but it can quickly spread to every corner of the world. You [UM] have a lot of research programs and develop new technology quickly. But hat is not the end of research itself. To find some new knowledge or technology, that is not the end. The purpose is to apply it to the field. We are working in the field.
   There is a chain for different stages for research. There is the question. Then we research it and we have the result or solution. And then we bring the solution or technology to the field to improve the quality of the work in the field and do more and more preventative measures that enable us to improve the quality of life of the population.
   I think the University of Michigan and the Shanghai CDC are in a different part of the chain, so once the chain links up together it will make things easier to move forward in the future.

Q: What are the most important benefits that you hope to get from a partnership with a university like UM?
 A: When we select a university, there are several things we’re looking for. One is the quality of the university, the faculty, the research program, the quality of education itself. This is most important. The second thing, as your dean mentioned in his presentation, you have several high-level research projects. That enables your faculty, students, visiting scholars to work at a top level. This is very important to us. You also have very flexible acceptance for different scholars and purposes – for visiting scholars, Ph.D. degrees, or master’s degrees. That is especially suitable for Shanghai’s CDC. That’s why we want a more in-depth collaboration with the University of Michigan.     

UM SPH Dean Philbert with SCDC Director Wu Fan, exchanging the signed Memorandum of Understanding.


Don’t drink the water…?

March 2, 2012 by

Chuanwu Xi in Shanghai enjoying a glass of water, boiled.

When traveling in China, I know that I’m not supposed to drink the water from the tap. But I wasn’t sure exactly why. Now, I finally understand, thanks to one of my travelmates: SPH Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences Chuanwu Xi, a molecular microbiologist and microbial ecologist who researches water quality.

Xi explained that the water treatment technology used in America and China are the same. But the problem in China is that water sources are heavily contaminated with industrial and municipal waste. It’s difficult to thoroughly treat the water so that it’s clean enough to drink from the tap.

“The tradition here is that people boil the water before they drink it so microbial contamination is not a huge issue,” Xi said. “But in the remote, rural areas, diarrhea is still a problem.”

Another problem that worries Xi is the overuse of antibiotics in the U.S. and China. “They are more overused in China because some of the drugs are sold over the counter, with no prescription needed,” he said. “You just go to the drug store and get your antibiotics.”

The unused antibiotics are sometimes thrown away and end up in water sources, where they contribute to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs.

“It’s becoming a worldwide public health concern because basically there could be no antibiotics to treat the patients,” Xi said. “There are no antibiotics to treat certain infections and some patients don’t respond to any antibiotics.”

Xi is serving as a special consultant to the Tianjin CDC. He said he hopes to work with scientists in China in comparing the status of antibiotic resistance in hospitals and water. “We also want to compare it with different regions of the world,” he added.

Photos: Tours in Tianjin

March 1, 2012 by

The last day in Tianjin began with UM SPH Dean Martin Philbert and other faculty giving academic reports at Tianjin’s CDC.

UM SPH Professor Victor Strecher (left) discussed his research at the University of Michigan Center for Health Communications Research and at HealthMedia Inc., an Ann Arbor-based company that develops and disseminates health interventions. Both groups are pioneers in “tailoring” messages for betters results.

After the presentations, the UM SPH delegation and Tianjin CDC officials visited a local Health Service Center. In this photo, Dr. Matthew Boulton (at right) and others look at emergency response kits for toxic gas, water contamination, food-borne pathogens, and other situations. (Photos by William Foreman.)

Collaboration: “At home” in Tianjin

February 29, 2012 by

Dean Philbert in Tianjin

The Tianjin Center for Disease Control and the University of Michigan School of Public Health have a close relationship. They established a scholar exchange program in 2007, and 12 scholars from UM and 16 from Tianjin have been involved in the program. The Tianjin CDC has a special room designated for UM scholars with a plaque outside the door that says, “University of Michigan Office of Public Health Practice;” UM SPH Dean Martin Philbert stands there  in the photo at left. UM SPH Epidemiology Professor Matthew Boulton also has an National Institutes for Health  (NIH) study office at the Tianjin CDC for research on measles. Several other joint projects exist as well.

Tianjin group

Dean Philbert met with Dr. Xiexiu Wang (front row left and right), the honorary director general of Tianjin’s CDC. Dr. Wang is also a senior consultant on tuberculosis (TB) for the World Health Organization (WHO) and holds several other influential and prestigious public health positions in China. Scholars and doctors from both countries had time to confer as well during the February 29 visit (below; photos by William Foreman).

Groups in discussion

Photos: Tianjin CDC

February 29, 2012 by

The second city on the trip is Tianjin, about a two-hour drive southeast of Beijing. Like most Chinese cities, the population is huge. The city has 13 million permanent residents and another 3.5 million who are migrant workers and are listed as the "floating population." Managing the public health of such a big group of people is a mammoth task for Tianjin's CDC. The UM delegation spent the afternoon touring the CDC complex and discussing research with the staff.


The Tianjin CDC's control center for managing outbreaks has a row of computers collecting web-based reports in realtime from 446 hospitals. The staff can monitor TV news coverage on four screens on the wall. (Photos by William Foreman)

Beijing’s air, a downside of the economy

February 29, 2012 by

Beijing at rush hour. (Photo by William Foreman)

I packed a pair of sunglasses, but I didn’t have to wear them during our two-day visit to Beijing. When the sun could be seen, it looked like a fuzzy orange orb trying to burn its way through a thick layer of haze over the city – the unfortunate byproduct of China’s spectacular economic growth.

Reliable data about air pollution can be hard to come by in China. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing has set up its own monitoring station on the roof of its compound and reports its air quality readings via Twitter. The embassy monitors tiny particles – less than 2.5 micrometers – that are considered to be the most dangerous pollutants because they are small enough to get into the lungs and blood stream. A major source of the particles is car and truck exhaust as well as factory smokestacks and energy plants.

On our last morning in Beijing, the embassy described the air quality as “very unhealthy” with PM2.5 levels at 226. In such conditions, people are advised to avoid prolonged or heavy exertion, and children, older adults and people with heart or lung disease are advised to avoid outdoor activity.

Sometimes the embassy describes the levels of PM2.5 as being “off the index,” meaning the pollution is so high its off the charts.

Two countries, two universities: one destiny

February 28, 2012 by

When Yi Li was growing up in China, he only knew about two U.S. universities: Harvard and the University of Michigan. He was familiar with UM because his grandfather was among the first three waves of Chinese students sent to the school in the early 1900s.

Yi, now a professor of biostatistics at UM SPH, says his grandfather had the special opportunity to study in Ann Arbor because of the work of the late James B. Angell, the university’s longest-serving president. Angell put his academic career on hold in 1880-81 so that he could serve the U.S. government as Minister to China.

One of Angell’s special projects was to help create a scholarship program that would allow Chinese students to study in the U.S. The money came from a $333 million indemnity that foreign countries demanded China pay them after the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion. Angell insisted that America’s portion of the money be used to create the scholarship program for Chinese students.

Yi said his grandfather, Tan Qizhen, earned a master degree at UM in political science before returning to China in 1921. He became a legislator in the Nationalist government, which was toppled in 1949 when the Communists took over the mainland. He died in 1958 before Yi was born. 

 Yi, who is from the southwestern city of Chengdu, followed in his grandfather’s academic footsteps and earned his doctorate at UM. “When I got admitted to the University of Michigan,” he said, “I went to the student record office and they still had my grandfather’s transcript.”

After graduating, Yi went to Harvard, where he taught for 12 years. Last September, he was invited and returned to UM to be the director of the Kidney Epidemiology and Cost Center at the School of Public Health. He said his grandfather’s history with UM was not a determining factor in his decision to return to Ann Arbor. “But UM has a very strong connection with my family, so it was just like coming home,” he said.

“This connection made my decision much easier.”

More on China CDC and National Influenza Center

February 28, 2012 by

Surrounded by trees and hills on the outskirts of Beijing, the sleek new buildings look like they could be part of a high-tech research park. Although plenty of research is being done at the site, it’s not about developing the next gadget or gizmo. It’s about keeping China healthy. The complex is the new headquarters of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The China CDC plays a much broader role than the CDC in America. Like its counterpart in the U.S., China’s CDC seeks to promote good health, prevent disease and prepare for new health threats. But the center is also a degree-granting academic institution and it conducts basic science research –  a function the National Institutes of Health performs in the U.S. 

The faculty delegation from University of Michigan touring the flu lab at the China CDC.

The China CDC has about 2,200 employees nationwide, and about half of them work in the new Beijing complex, built three years ago. The campus includes the Chinese National Influenza Center, which the UM SPH delegation toured (in front at left: Dr. Arnold Monto).

Below: A signpost on the China CDC campus provides a sense of some of the what’s going on there. (All photos by William Foreman, University of Michigan News Service.)

Photos: Historic day with China CDC Director Wang and UM SPH Dean Philbert

February 28, 2012 by

Michigan School of Public Health Dean Martin Philbert (left) meets with Dr. Yu Wang, director of the China CDC (center), Feb.28, 2012. At right is Dr. Matthew Boulton of UM SPH, who has initiated collaborative projects between the institutions, including this historic day's research forum.


Faculty members from the University of Michigan spent the day touring the China CDC in Beijing and discussing research interests with officials and staff there. (Photos by William Foreman)


If not smog, smoke?

February 27, 2012 by

Our bus driver smoked a couple cigarettes on our two-hour drive from Beijing to Tianjin. He was considerate enough to blow the smoke out of his window – something a driver might not have done a few years ago when there was little awareness in China of the dangers of passive smoking.

smokersChina is making an effort to discourage people from smoking. The CDC recently established an Office for Tobacco Control, and several cities have restrictions on smoking. But the campaign is still relatively weak and enforcement is uneven.

A key part of the problem is that selling tobacco is a huge business in China, and the industry is both owned and regulated by the government. A story in the Jan. 28 edition of the Economist magazine reported several interesting statistics about smoking in China:

  • Chinese companies sold 2.4 trillion cigarettes in 2011 – two-fifths of the world’s supply.
  • Last year, the industry took in profits and tax receipts of US $119 billion – an annual increase of over a fifth.
  • China is home to more than 300 million smokers, about one-third of the world’s total.
  • About 1 million Chinese die each year from smoking-related illnesses.
  • More than half of Chinese men smoke.

    An anti-smoking sign in the headquarters of Tianjin’s CDC. (Photos by William Foreman)

Photo: Healthy snack

February 27, 2012 by

When the professors from the University of Michigan School of Public Health met with their counterparts at Peking University on Monday morning, they weren't offered sugary, fat-laden doughnuts or Danishes. Instead, at each spot at the table was a small pile of juicy tangerines - a nutritious and refreshing snack. (photo by William Foreman)

Focus on influenza, vaccines

February 27, 2012 by

Dr. Arnold Monto tours the Peking University School of Public health. (photo by William Foreman)

When Dr. Arnold Monto first visited China 20 years ago, hepatitis was the hot issue. Few were talking about influenza. But now, things have changed dramatically and influenza is a high priority, said Monto, one of the world’s leading experts on the subject.

 One “wake-up call” that got the Chinese focusing more on influenza was the SARS outbreak about 10 years ago, said Monto, a professor of epidemiology who is part of the School of Public Health’s current delegation to China (spring break 2012).

 “I was actually here, invited by the Beijing medical bureau, on the first day that they had no new cases of SARS in 2003,” Monto said as he visited Peking University’s School of Public Health. “Therefore, I was considered very lucky because I got here on that day.”

 The Chinese are still concerned about influenza issues, he said, especially because avian influenza, or bird flu, continues in the region.  The Chinese have also recognized that as a newly industrialized nation, their hospitals are filling up with elderly people suffering from the flu during the winter months, he said. The illness can be expensive to treat so vaccines are good investments.

 Just a few years ago, China had no vaccine producers. Now the country has many, and the Chinese are interested in evaluating the vaccines, he said.

 Monto is meeting with officials at China’s CDC during this trip, and he hopes to establish new exchanges that will lead to more collaborative research with the Chinese.

 “We’re going to have a lot of improved vaccines,” he said. “But the question is: How do we evaluate them?”

Remembering SARS and other public health events

February 27, 2012 by

Chinese health workers in Beichuan in 2008, tasked with recovering bodies and disinfecting cities flattened by the earthquake in Sichuan. (photo by William Foreman)

The years I spent living and working in China taught me that public health issues are extremely important and can have a huge impact on our lives. As an Associated Press journalist based in greater China for 10 years, I covered several health-related stories. The biggest ones included the threat of bird flu and the effort to control the spread of disease in the aftermath of the massive Sichuan earthquake, which killed about 70,000 people in 2008.

But my most memorable experience was with SARS in 2003. I was based in Taiwan at the time and was sent to Beijing to fill in for a colleague who was away on a special assignment to cover the war in Iraq. When I arrived in Beijing, all was calm because the government had yet to acknowledge that SARS was a growing problem in the capital. An airport taxi driver who drove me to my hotel said, “Everything is OK here. The only problem is that the media keep talking about SARS in other places and scaring people.”

But a couple days later, the SARS crisis finally erupted in Beijing: the virus raging out of control in the hospitals. The government launched a massive campaign, marshaling all the major forces – the military, media, Communist Party and public – to battle SARS in Beijing. It was a unique experience to see a full-blown Chinese campaign, much like the ones during the Maoist era.

Within a day, the hotel I was staying in emptied out as all the business travelers and tourists fled Beijing. I might have been the only customer left in the place. Most of the hotel workers were sent home, and most of the facilities were closed: the bar, breakfast buffet, gift shop, fitness center, coffee shop. In the morning, a cleaning lady waited outside my door when I left for work. “Can I clean your room now?” she would ask. I figured she got to go home after my room was done.

 My colleagues and I constantly worried about our health. Any cough, sniffle or sore throat filled us with a sense of doom. Still, we did our jobs, venturing out into the public each day to cover the news. I remember going to a packed supermarket to do a story about people hoarding food. I also spent a lot of time hanging out at train stations and airports, reporting about the mass exodus of people leaving the city.

 We often debated whether it was more dangerous to be in Iraq or Beijing. During one such discussion, a Chinese news assistants chipped in: “Beijing is more dangerous. You can be surrounded by assassins and not know it! The SARS virus is everywhere!”

 I went on to cover many other stories about terror attacks, factory riots, the Olympics and the booming Chinese economy. But SARS still ranks high on my list of most memorable and important stories.

Photo: Familiar yet strange things in China…

February 27, 2012 by

Often in China, things can feel warmly familiar while also seeming to be a bit out of place. A classic case was at the breakfast buffet at our hotel in Beijing. A pitcher for Budweiser beer (or “Bai wei pi jiu” in Mandarin) was used to serve a yogurt drink.  (Photo by William Foreman)

About the correspondent

February 27, 2012 by

Beijing brings back many memories for me. I’ve visited the city more than a dozen times over the past 20 years – as a graduate student studying Mandarin, foreign correspondent covering China’s spectacular rise, tourist climbing the Great Wall with my kids and now as a writer for the University of Michigan.

I’m traveling with a 12-member group of public health professors on a week-long trip that also includes Shanghai and Tianjin, a port city about 70 miles southeast of Beijing.

The professors are seeking to build on their relationships with Chinese partners and find new ones to collaborate with in tackling many of the world’s most pressing health issues. The group’s wide-ranging research interests include influenza, measles and tuberculosis, among many other things. The itinerary is packed with meetings at the Peking University School of Public Health as well as visits to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai.

Please stay tuned for more posts about the highlights of the trip and stories about public health issues in the world’s most populous nation.

Lessons from a [table tennis] pro

February 27, 2012 by

Vic Strecher (at right) with Tom Robins at Beijing Friendship Hotel

The first evening in Beijing, Tom Robins and I went to the Fitness Club at the Beijing Friendship Hotel to work out. On the first floor, the club had a large glass-walled room with two Olympic-quality table tennis tables. At one of the tables was a woman in her late 20’s coaching an elderly man. They had a big bag with at least 50 ping pong balls, and they were hitting the balls and leaving them on the ground, as you would practicing at a tennis club.

The woman was the best player I’ve ever seen in my life. She was taking the ball from anywhere on the table. Turns out she was on the world table tennis pro circuit for years before becoming a coach at the Beijing Sports Academy.

When they took a break, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind hitting a few. “Sure,” she said. After about three rallies, she suggested I shorten my stroke, loosen my wrist a bit and don’t try to hit the ball so hard. I did those things and I started hitting like Forrest Gump. No kidding — just ripping forehand after forehand at her. It was frankly easy to do this since she kept returning it to the exact same spot on the table. Then while hitting she moved back 20 feet and said, “OK, now hit it hard.” I smashed one volley after another deep into the right corner. She hit EVERY ball back. People began stopping to watch.

After warming up like this for 10 minutes, I asked her to serve it up. “Give me your toughest serve” I said. Starting in a kung fu-like table tennis pro stance, she dishes out a lightning fast, low to the backhand, whirling dervish serve. I’d never seen a serve that good and almost missed it completely. She then taught me how to hit her impossible serve. It worked. We even had three volleys before, with a quick snap of her wrist, she ripped the ball into Hunan Province.

When it was my turn to serve, I used my best spin serve. She didn’t get it back. Point to me. I swear. What’s clear, however, is that she simply hasn’t seen such a junky serve on the pro circuit. She recalibrated. I hit the same serve. She gave me a second belly button. I didn’t even see the return. She must be thinking, “OK, serve that sorry stuff up again and you won’t have an eye.”

We hit for 30 minutes. Sweat was pouring off me. She literally did not sweat a single drop. At the end she said I have an “excellent feel for the game.” I almost started crying. I would have canoed to China to hear that.

The art of eating in China

February 26, 2012 by


The Chinese are famous for their hospitality. They treat their guests to huge feasts that can last for hours, with countless courses of amazing food and often toasts with shots of fiery liquor called “baijiu” tossed back with one gulp.

Red bell pepper stuffed with walnuts


Even before we sat down, the table was covered with tasty appetizers and cold dishes: escargot with brown-spotted shells, sliced cucumbers with chilies, red bell peppers stuffed with tender walnuts, vegetables wrapped in thin sheets of tofu.

We barely had time to sample the starters when dish after dish began arriving. Each one was delicious and beautiful, worth of the cover of Bon Appetit magazine.

The last dish before dessert was noodles with thinly sliced cucumbers and daikon radish. The pasta came with a small bowl of tomato sauce and scrambled eggs, which we poured over the noodles. The noodles are symbols of a long friendship.

A Chinese banquet can’t end without the final fruit course. We were served slices of cantaloupe, watermelon and cherry tomatoes in a martini glass.