Becoming an agent of change in the face of shifting global health priorities

Credit Michael Lee

My first experience at the Canadian Conference on Global Health

I was thrilled to receive an email saying that I was one of the four recipients of the travel bursary offered by the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research to attend the 24th Canadian Conference on Global Health (CCGH) in Toronto from November 19 to 21, 2018. I was exhilarated because this was my first experience of this forum and also it was the first meeting I was attending after spending months recuperating from two major surgeries. My participation began at the pre-conference, the Global Health Students and Young Professionals Summit (GHSYPS), held at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, which brought together 221 students and young professionals from across Canada. I was impressed by the keynote presentations, which focused on the changing role and priorities for global health donors in the era of the Sustainable Development Goals and the best path to achieving global health equity.

The 67 poster presentations at the summit were exemplary and demonstrated the interdisciplinary focus of global health. Furthermore, it was interesting to note that about 63% of the meeting attendees were women; I believe this affirms Canada’s significant stride towards gender equity. During the breakout sessions, I was spoiled for choice on which sessions to attend because they all touched on pertinent issues that ranged from global health law to maternal and child health, to water and sanitation, among others.

Global health career

My highlight of the day was the global health career panel, which had a mix of professionals with varying backgrounds ranging from nursing, family medicine, public health and health systems research. Each of the panelists drew attention to the role they play within the bigger picture of global health and this pretty much summed up the conference theme: “Becoming Change Agents in Global Health.” The GHSYPS provided the much required avenue for young professionals to network ahead of the main conference, noting that over 52% of the attendees were also present during the CCGH.

Fragile populations

The next day ushered in the main conference at the Hilton Hotel. The Keynote Address from Bob Rae and Patricia Garcia set the pace for the conference by emphasizing the inequalities within fragile populations and projecting the role of Canada in reducing health inequities among vulnerable groups such as girls and women. The take-home message was that researchers need to listen to the voices of the people who are at greatest risk of poor health outcomes to broaden the scope of health research and close the gap on health equity. Even though, individual level biomedical interventions have reduced deaths incurred from infectious diseases in most parts of the world, it remains limited in addressing other challenges that impact on health equity such as climate change and displacement of persons, hence the need to consider context-specific factors such as race, ethnicity, religion or geography on health and health care.

Elizabeth Ochola is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo.  She is one of the recipients of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarships. Her current research is on the impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases on health and well-being in sub-Saharan Africa. Outside her research work, she enjoys travelling, cooking and watching movies.