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May 2, 2017

Funding, Institutional Conflicts of Interest, and Schools of Public Health: Realities and Solutions

Author Affiliations
  • 1Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Associate Editor, JAMA
JAMA. 2017;317(17):1735-1736. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.1659

Individual researchers are accustomed to declaring conflict of interest (COI), if it exists, when submitting manuscripts for publication or in public presentations. In this Viewpoint we focus on an equally important issue—whole-institution COIs, specifically financial COIs in schools of public health, and address 2 interlinked questions: When does this funding represent an important conflict and what can schools of public health do about it?

This topic is particularly important because academic schools of public health today have little choice but to accept extramural funding. Schools of public health derive income from 2, or sometimes 3, sources. State schools derive some income from the state, although this source of funding is rapidly diminishing. Other schools rely on income from tuition and extramural sources in the form of grants, contracts, or philanthropy. The majority of the budget of leading schools of public health is often derived from extramural sources. Divesting from such sources would mean a much narrower scope of work, and consequently less potential effect on the health of the public.

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