by Grace Kapustianyk
As a young global health professional, attending the 2020 Canadian Conference for Global Health was an empowering opportunity to learn, connect, and think critically about global health challenges in the COVID-19 era. This year’s conference, Global Health in a Changing Climate, was held virtually and explored how innovation, political engagement, intersectoral and systems approaches are necessary to be both responsive and resilient to the challenges of climate change. I was not only impressed by the utility and capacity of the online conference platform, but also by the opportunities I had to engage with other young global health professionals through daily wrap-up sessions, poster session judging, and networking sessions. Furthermore, the high quality of the sessions and plenary conversations provided excellent opportunities to learn and interact with esteemed professionals like Professor Ilona Kickbusch, Dr. Karlee Silver, and 2020 Gairdner Global Health Laureates Drs. Salim S. Abdool Karim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim. This experience has undoubtedly stoked my motivation to continue pursuing a career in global health, and I am excited to share a few key themes I took away from this year’s conference.
It is Time to Transform the Way We Communicate Research
In a world where misinformation is taking centre stage, the need for communicating research findings in an effective and relatable manner is increasingly pertinent. While strong research is often solely defined by its rigour and good practice, I believe that quality research is only as strong as the ways in which it is communicated and the story it tells. Research has the capacity to tell incredible stories and positively impact individuals and communities, and the theme of improving how we as researchers communicate research findings was an enlightening conversation throughout the week. Multiple sessions, plenaries, and panelists emphasized the need for meaningful collaboration and engagement with decision-makers to enhance the understanding of evidence and its value in improving health outcomes. Panelists in the Communicating Innovative Research Findings To Policy In A Changing Context symposia stressed the importance of creating a shared sense of responsibility among researchers, decisionmakers, and community leaders. We need to include policy and decision makers from the beginning and throughout the research design process, positioning them as partners rather than external bodies. As there is often an absence of personal contact between decision makers and researchers, there can be a general lack of trust and this can add to the challenge of assuring continuity of dialogue, especially with changes in priorities when new actors come in (or using COVID as an example, when the priorities suddenly shift due to external forces). As Dr. Anthony Fauci stated during the Gairdner symposium, “[we] need to be much better at communicating complex and nuanced messages that come from our work. [We] need a dialogue and not a monologue.”
Reinventing The Wheel? Not Always Necessary
The Plenary on Funder Perspectives for Innovating for Health called out the role of innovators and funders to focus on sustainability and impact when addressing global health challenges. We are often called to solve these challenges in new, unique, and innovative ways. New research, methods of implementation, monitoring and evaluation technique – novelty is rewarded! However, innovation is inherently risky, and this plenary emphasized the need to learn from collective failures. Rather than framing innovation in global health as always needing something new, it is important to consider innovation as a function of scalability and adaptability. We do not always need to reinvent the wheel, something featured in the discussions throughout the plenary and the rest of the week. For example, Drs. Salim S. Abdool Karim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim presented on how lessons learned from HIV can be applied to the COVID response during the Gairdner symposium. Another particularly interesting example was presented by Muvariz Tariq, of the Canadian Red Cross (CRC), during the Innovation in Response to COVID-19 oral session. The CRC COVID-19 response included hiring more than 50 International Medical Graduates (IMGs) who were previously struggling to gain accreditation to work in a clinical/medical capacity in Canada. The benefits of hiring IMGs were large – these professionals were not only able to successfully contribute to surveillance and community-based epidemic control and prevention but also able to establish professional networks and access additional work opportunities across Canada.
Moving Young Professionals Forward
“There is major potential for young people’s ideas, energy and leadership to drive impact for health and sustainable development in countries” – WHO Engaging Young People For Health and Sustainable Development
Youth and young professionals were well-represented at the conference as speakers, facilitators, and attendees. It was motivating to hear fellow young professionals and students discuss their career goals and current successes and share advice and perspectives around how to pursue a career in global health. There were many questions from those in mid- and senior level positions around what is needed and wanted from them by young professionals. Participating early career professionals identified the need for entry level positions and viable pathways that provide the ability to advance. During the closing plenary, panelist Sarah W. called for more professional “[opportunities] actively being brought and open to these early career and younger professionals because there is a lot of momentum and passion among them that can be utilized and brought into these environments.” It was exciting to see participants using their positions of power to make space for the growing conversation on how to support careers in global health and what is needed to create pathways for career growth and trajectories. I hope this inspired other aspiring professionals as much as it did for me!
Grace Kapustianyk (MPH) is a Researcher and Independent Consultant in Public Health. She is passionate about strong research that can tell incredible stories and positively impact individuals and communities, especially when engaged in research and advocacy around mental health and sexual and reproductive health for youth and young people. Want to learn more about her CCGH experience, or connect over a shared love of running, coffee, or mental health advocacy? Connect on LinkedIn @gracekapustianyk