Think global, act local: Kellogg Eye Center speaker to med students

A career in global health can be found on the other side of the world or right in your own backyard.

Dr. Hugh Taylor, of the University of Melbourne Medical School, speaks during Kellogg Eye Center's annual International Night event.

Or ideally in both, because global health and local health are not mutually exclusive concepts.

That notion was among many of the key takeaways that Dr. Hugh Taylor, a leading Australian ophthalmologist, had for students and faculty who attended the Kellogg Eye Center’s annual International Night event last month. More than 100 students and faculty members gathered to hear Dr. Taylor, the President of the International Council of Ophthalmology and one of Australia’s foremost policy leaders for eye and vision health, speak about his ground-breaking career, which spans from his native Australia to Pakistan and beyond.

“If you are interested in global health, you should remember to think global but act local,” he said. “‘Global’ needs to include the entire world – not the world except where you live.”

Indeed, while Dr. Taylor’s research has improved the lives of people around the world, he’s dedicated much of his career to helping fellow Australians, in particular the country’s often overlooked indigenous Aboriginal communities. Dr. Taylor made his first visits to indigenous communities in rural Australia during a residency experience. He was dismayed by the conditions he discovered. From there, he traveled to Johns Hopkins University as a research fellow and wound up working on projects in Central America, West Africa and other places. In Pakistan, Dr. Taylor worked with the World Health Organization on research that helped improve living conditions for than 1.5 million Afghani refugees who fled to Pakistan following the 1979 Soviet invasion.

“I was blown away – 1.5 million people! I would have to spend a lot of time asking individuals one at a time to look at an eye chart in order to impact 1.5 million people,” he said at the Oct. 20 event. “There were colleagues who asked why I wouldn’t just set up a private practice, but different strokes for different folks.”

Dr. Taylor eventually returned to his native Australia, joining the faculty at the University Melbourne Medical School in 1990. He’s always maintained his focus on global health and health disparities, and has led an effort among Australia’s indigenous population to eradicate trachoma, a bacterial infection in the eye that can cause blindness. The project, a combination of research, education and public policy, has helped reduce the prevalence of the disease from 20 percent to less than 5 percent in those communities. In 2001, the Australian government honored him by making him a Companion in the Order of Australia, the highest award the government can bestow upon a citizen.  

“It’s attractive as a doctor to think about helping the blind in some faraway place, but it’s imperative to think about disparities in your own country,” Dr. Taylor said. “We need to look at our neighbors, too.”

Dr. Taylor speaks with International Night attendees.