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Lessons learned from Global Health Week 2019

Written by Aishwarya Nagar, MPH candidate at the Brown School and President of the Global Health Student Advisory Committee

It is no easy feat to distill the complexity and diversity of global health discourses into one week, but it is nevertheless accomplished year after year by Global Health Week.

The 4th Annual Global Health Week (February 25 – March 1, 2019) presented an exhilarating opportunity for students, faculty, staff, and community members across St. Louis to engage in meaningful conversations around contemporary global health issues. This year, the Week was designed to illustrate the role of transdisciplinary problem solving in addressing global health priorities.

One of the most well-attended events of Global Health Week 2019 was our Women in Global Health panel, which highlighted challenges and triumphs commonly faced by women engaged in global health work. Panelists represented a variety of disciplines and candidly discussed the ways in which their gendered identities affect and are affected by their professional experiences. Themes around discrimination, allyship, mentorship, and gender equity emerged throughout the discussion and were supported by the rich narratives they shared. It was fascinating to observe commonalities and differences in their experiences with global health, and panelists also provided valuable advice to those in the audience who anticipate facing gender-based barriers in their own careers.

The keynote address featured an intimate and enlightening conversation around One Health, led by Dr. Sharon Deem who is the Director of Saint Louis Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Medicine. Dr. Deem elaborated on the complex and interconnected ways in which the health of humans, animals, and the environment relate to each other.

“It was a pivotal moment during Global Health Week,” says Carmen Maria Von Unrug. “Hearing about One Health opened my eyes to the possibilities within global health and alerted me to the importance of thinking about health as a matter of the earth… we are not the only ones affected by disease.”

Dr. Deem’s lecture emphasized the importance of working across sectors and disciplines in an intentional manner in order to tackle challenges presented by worsening climate change and human impact on animal life and the environment.

Impacts of climate change were also addressed during the Week’s Reverse Case Competition, a novel initiative which flipped the narrative around case competitions and put the onus of innovating solutions to a global health case on a panel of experts. The panel was comprised of physicians, public health practitioners, wildlife veterinarians, and psychologists. This team was guided through a case and challenged to address key considerations/strategies regarding climate change displacement in Bangladesh.

Globally, the adverse effects of climate change have led to a sharp increase in mass displacement and climate refugees, a problem that is particularly pronounced in Bangladesh. Panelists integrated best practices from their own fields in their responses, explored salient risk factors, recommended innovative strategies, and illustrated anticipated barriers. Most importantly, they highlighted the importance of transdisciplinary problem solving in addressing such a complex global public health issue.

These key events were complemented with other global health engagement opportunities. Students discussed Dr. Matt Bernstine’s work with sustainable urbanism and Dr. Peggy Frisella’s work with surgical outreach over lunch. They heard from Dr. Christine Dubray about her experiences with humanitarian and emergency response at the CDC.

Dr. Lora Iannotti delivered her annual lecture about women’s role in global nutrition and food security as part of the Week. The Global Health Center also hosted its monthly Global Health Work in Progress meeting, where researchers discussed their work with gut microbiomes, helminth infections, and parenting interventions targeting nutrition.

Global health is an inherently dynamic field where priorities are constantly re-evaluated. I believe that Global Health Week provides our community a unique opportunity to come together and learn from new perspectives on modern global health issues. I attended Global Health Week during my first year at Washington University, and was fascinated by the depth and breadth of global health work done here! At the very least, the inspiring conversations we have at Global Health Week are testament to the fact that, despite its bicoastal distribution, the future of global health is bright here in the Midwest.

Global Health Week 2019 was organized by the Global Health Student Advisory Committee (GHSAC), a University-wide committee that consists of representatives from multiple schools and programs across Washington University. As President of this Committee, I enjoyed working with such a talented and driven group of students who share my vision for a healthier and more equitable future.

In planning Global Health Week, we represented global health discourses from our own fields and were motivated by the joys of transdisciplinary collaboration. Our team enjoyed working with the Office of Sustainability’s Greenware Program, through which we utilized reusable dishware for events which were catered.

We hope to engage student groups and the St. Louis community more intentionally in the future, and are truly grateful for the support we received from the Global Health Center at the Institute for Public Health, Office of the Provost, Brown School, Business School, School of Medicine, School of Law, School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis.