Columbia Pandemic Response Institute

NYC’s Pandemic Response Institute to be Created and Led by Columbia University and Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr (September 29, 2021)

On September 29, the Office of the Mayor, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) announced the selection of Columbia University to launch, operate and coordinate NYC’s Pandemic Response Institute (PRI), which is intended to help the city prepare for future health emergencies.

The institute will be led by Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health where she is a professor of Epidemiology and Medicine and the director of its ICAP center, which works on large, evidence-based health programs in a wide variety of areas including HIV prevention, tuberculosis and reproductive health. 

According to the ICAP site, since she founded the center in 2003, Dr. El-Sadr has worked with populations across the world including those with limited healthcare infrastructures, and as to the COVID-19 pandemic, her work has resulted in over 4,238,977 people screened for COVID-19, 11,771 health care workers receiving training, and 1,000 health facilities receiving COVID-19 related support. In a statement, Rachel Loeb, NYCEDC’s President and CEO highlighted that Columbia University, along with partner, CUNY Graduate School of Public Health (SPH) had shown a “high level of expertise that was unmatched” in dealing with the pandemic thus far.

Aided by $20 million in city capital funding, Dr. El-Sadr and Columbia will coordinate a consortium of academic, community, government and corporate partners, which includes the United Way of New York City, the Emergency Medicine All Threats (EMAT) Leadership Forum, the Columbia School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Columbia Data Science Data Institute, Columbia Technology Ventures, and the Columbia Doctors Network among others. As mentioned above, CUNY SPH will also serve as a key partner. Dr. El-Sadr stated that the effort “will create an unprecedented nexus for engagement, expertise, and resources from across our city and beyond that will enable us to equitably prepare, predict, prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from major health emergencies.”

Being among the leading infectious disease experts in the city, Dr. El-Sadr has previously outlined the weaknesses the pandemic exposed, such as in supply chain gaps and community disconnects, along with the need for a new focus on advancing the health of communities and populations through preventative methods such as those utilizing public health hubs that would ideally be situated in every community.

On its site, Columbia stated that the vision for the Pandemic Response Institute would be one of “sustained, cooperative action to mitigate future illness, suffering and deaths, and to reduce the glaring disparities associated with public health threats,” and that health solutions would be ‘locally tailored,’ and involve working closely with residents of the city and the various communities found within.

Specific, it was shared that the institute will:

  • Garner involvement from a broad cross-section of New Yorkers and NYC institutions, forming a true whole-of-society effort that empowers local communities;
  • Strengthen systems and capacity to respond to known and unknown threats, including through community-led simulation exercises and strategic workforce investments;
  • Intervene on the social determinants of health to address racial disparities, promote equity, and improve access to essential care and services in most-affected communities;
  • Strengthen prediction of public health emergencies through analysis and monitoring;
  • Develop and scale tailored health innovations and technologies;
  • Enhance community-led data collection, predictive modeling, and enhancements to collection and sharing of data; and
  • Minimize response times by equipping community organizations and the public with information and resources to take swift action.

The city hopes that the institute will play a critical role in terms of public health infrastructure and stated that Columbia’s selection was in part due to its comprehensive approach that will prepare NYC for future pandemics by providing its residents with access to health solutions, information for decision-making, and the capacity to prepare and respond.

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