Better health projections lead to better health policy, says new SHP faculty member

Stanford Health Policy’s newest faculty member, Joshua Salomon, believes that one urgent need in global health research is to improve forecasts of the patterns and trends that are the major causes of death and disease.

Salomon, who is leaving leaving his position as professor of global health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to join Stanford on Aug. 1, works on modeling of infectious and chronic diseases and their associated intervention strategies, as well as methods for economic evaluation of public health programs and ways to measure the global burden of disease.

And he looks at the potential impact and cost effectiveness of new health technologies.

“Projections of future trends in health are crucial to formulating policy,” said Salomon, who has a PhD from Harvard. “To think strategically about the technologies and policies that would make the biggest impact on health over the next 20 to 50 years, we really need to start by understanding the range of likely trends in major health challenges over the coming decades.”

Stanford, he said, offers him a “rich collaborative environment” to better learn from advances in forecasting across a range of other disciplines, such as economics, political science, and environmental science.

“With a better picture of what the world is likely to look like over the next 50 years — and what are going to be the most pressing health problems — we can invest wisely and put ourselves in a position to respond more effectively.”

Salomon is also the director of the Prevention Policy Modeling Lab, which is funded by a five-year award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The consortium represents the collaborative research of experts from Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Medical Center, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Yale School of Public Health, Brown University School of Public Health, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and.

He will continue directing the lab from Stanford and intends to bring in new research threads from his colleagues here on the Farm. The lab works on a wide range of projects dealing with policy analysis for hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections and diseases such as HIV, and tuberculosis.

“It’s a rewarding grant for me to work on because, unlike a lot of modeling projects, the work that we do really starts from urgent public health questions that policymakers have,” he said. “All of the questions that we are working on are questions that originated directly from discussions with CDC and other public health partners.”

With Salomon’s move to Stanford, the university gains a dynamic duo.

His wife, Grace Lee, MD, MPH, joins in the fall as the Associate Chief Medical Officer at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. As a professor of population medicine at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute & Harvard Medical School, Lee has led research in vaccine safety in the FDA-funded Post-licensure Rapid Immunization Safety Monitoring (PRISM) program and the CDC-funded Vaccine Safety Datalink, which monitors the safety of vaccines and studies rare and adverse reactions from immunizations.

She has also examined the impact of financial penalties on rates of healthcare-associated infections, as the principal investigator of an AHRQ-funded study, as well as developed novel surveillance definitions for ventilator-related events in neonates and children.

While at Stanford, Lee said, she intends “to find opportunities to enhance the learning health system approach to improve patient outcomes and population health.”

Salomon has spent his entire career as a collaborator on the Global Burden of Disease project, the world’s most comprehensive epidemiological study commissioned by the World Bank in 1990, which tracks mortality and morbidity from major diseases, injuries and risks factors.

“The study has made a major contribution to global public health because before this study we just didn’t have a comprehensive, systematic understanding of the things that cause death and disability in low- and middle-income countries. But now we do,” he said. “It’s hugely ambitious and very sweeping in scope — and a lot of my work is around providing the evidence we need to inform policy.”

Much of Salomon’s work is global in nature. He’s most recently focused on older adults in one rural South African community, which has a high prevalence of HIV and one of the world’s highest levels of hypertension. His research there aims to inform urgent prevention initiatives tailored to older adults where HIV and cardiovascular risks are moderate or high, as in similar communities in sub-Saharan Africa.

“People don’t expect a high level of ongoing HIV transmission in older adults,” he said. “The double burden that we find, with a very high level of HIV, as well as the high prevalence of diabetes and heart disease, creates enormous strains on the health-care system.”