Led by the Global Health Center and its Global Health Student Advisory Committee – an interdisciplinary team of students representing six schools across campus – Washington University’s 5th annual Global Health Week was a great success. It convened students, faculty, and staff from all schools and the greater St. Louis community for a series of 13 exciting, high-energy, and diverse events in a span of five days. Every event created an environment for deep discussions to equip audiences with the tools to create meaningful impact and shape the continually-evolving field of global health.
Global Health Week included topics ranging from environmental health, reproductive health, and nutrition. The culminating event – “Ignite Global Health with Washington University” – provided an opportunity to tie all discussions together with presentations on global health experiences from 11 faculty and trainees across the university. Although all the Global Health Week speakers came from different fields and had various interests, they all had a steadfast determination to improve global health outcomes.
A breakfast conversation and lecture from renowned author and Professor Michelle Oberman from Santa Clara University discussed how Americans should first and foremost care about what is happening in other countries. For example, a lack of access to safe abortions in El Salvador foreshadows what may happen in the United States if similar laws were to be passed here.
Similarly, Dr. Joseline Marhone (Director of Food and Nutrition Program at the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population, who has been referred to as a “Haitian Hero”) emphasized how rising costs of GMOs affect nutritional access in the United States, and may ultimately affect other countries (such as Haiti), which have not yet widely used GMOs. Global health is not just about focusing on international work, but also realizing how it affects where you live.
Dr. Adam Burgener from the Public Health Agency of Canada and University of Manitoba emphasized the importance of social determinants of health. His novel work further explained how microbiology (such as the gut microbiome) should be studied to develop new drugs.
Eva Noble, Associate Director of Research and Learning at Women for Women International, emphasized how global health has implications for policy alleviation. She shared personal stories from her work to show how culturally-appropriate interventions including classroom training and enhancing decision-making skills can promote women empowerment. To date, Women for Women International has served more than 500,000 women in seven countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.
Dr. Hayes from Washington University’s School of Medicine focused on tropical diseases and how they particularly impact children. The tropical map overlaps with third world countries, so poverty is associated with why these diseases persist.
Dr. Arden Pope from Brigham Young University began his talk describing his personal interest in the environment based on his love for the outdoors back at home in Utah, and showed cartoons and paintings that describe the deadly thick smog covering cities. After establishing the importance of air pollution on health outcomes, Dr. Pope made the convincing argument that data shows reducing air pollution decreases negative health effects and that there is no threshold for “clean air” to eliminate health risk.
Do we have a shortage of trainees to impact global health? Provost Patrick Ayeh-Kumi from the University of Ghana presented to a large audience on “The Challenges of Educating Physicians for the Future of Africa.” While Africa has 24% of the world’s burden of disease, it only has 3% of the physicians. Dr. Ayeh-Kumi discussed how partnerships with institutions like Washington University can help utilize the African diaspora to attract emigrated specialists and strengthen local institutions to encourage more physicians to consider academic medicine.
As these events highlighted, there are many efforts in the global health field. How do we create a lasting impact? The pediatric residents at Washington University’s School of Medicine hosted Dr. George Kyei, assistant professor in infectious diseases and molecular biology and Dr. Krista Milich, assistant professor of biological anthropology, to talk about the “Dos and Don’ts of Working in Global Communities.” They shared three recommendations:
1) Always keep the interests of the community you are working with in mind, and respect the local community.
2) Involve local collaborators in all aspects of the project.
3) Always listen carefully. Nobody has all the answers, and if we did, we would not see any disparities in health outcomes!
To close Global Health Week, a packed room for “Ignite Global Health with Washington University” showcased the many efforts we have at Washington University that support health initiatives around the world. Whether it is a student such as Jae Lee, who co-founded a non-profit organization to serve more than 70,000 individuals in rural Uganda, or Professor Rodrigo Reis from the Brown School showing how urban design impacts health outcomes, or Professor Mary Ruppert-Stroescu designing fashion to address health and well-being, everyone left the event – and week – excited to continue their work and meaningful conversations in global health.