This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 10th annual Unite for Sight Global Health and Innovation Conference held at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. I attended last April, as well, and it was through conversations at the conference that pieces of our Haiti trip and programming came together. This conference is attended by students (undergraduate, graduate, medical students), educators, and professionals from all 50 states and over 50 countries. It is a jam-packed two days that leave you feeling inspired, empowered, and connected to the growing global health community.
Some highlights from a few of the sessions I attended:
Tina Rosenberg, Fixes columnist for the New York Times, was the opening keynote speaker, and she addressed how to harness the power of peer pressure to make positive strives in global health. She argued that the best way to change behavior (which she sees as the biggest health challenge today) is through motivation, not information sharing, and that the most credible messenger is a peer who is has already made the change. She also highlighted “time banks” – a community/neighborhood membership network that uses reciprocal service exchange that uses units of time as currency. For example, you provide services to rack up points to receive services, e.g. I drive you to the pharmacy and you come clean out my gutters. There are now about 300 “time banks” in existence in the United States, and she cited a “time bank” in Richmond, Virginia that has successfully cut asthma emergency admissions at the hospital through its peer-to-peer assistance system.
One of my favorite types of sessions to attend at the conference are the “pitches: ideas in development.” Each presenter has five minutes to pitch their idea/project in development and then receives feedback/comments/questions from the audience for five minutes.
I attended two such sessions: “Water, Sanitation, and Environment Social Enterprise Pitches” and “Community-Based Social Enterprise Pitches.” I was intrigued to hear from Peepoople (what a name!), a Swedish company, that has designed a self-sanitizing single-use biodegradable toilet that is a short-term solution for sanitation post-disaster or in refugee camps.
A group from Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering presented their small-scale hydropower project in rural Rwanda that has led to income generation through battery-charging kiosks for cell phones. A veterinarian from UCDavis presented on a wildlife pathogen surveillance project, supported by USAID, which is especially relevant today with the H7N9 bird flu outbreak in China. Non-communicable diseases were a hot topic, and I was excited to hear about several projects in the works to address diabetes, hypertension, tobacco use, cancer, and lifestyle diseases.
I thoroughly enjoyed attending the “Healthcare Innovation” session; presenters included Ali Lutz of Partners in Health, Maja Pleic of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative, and Jane Aronson, founder of Worldwide Orphans Foundation. Ali Lutz had helped us coordinate our visits to PIH’s hospitals in Mirebalais and Cange last summer, and I just find her articulation of Partner in Health’s mission and “change narrative” accessible and infectious. Maja Pleic focused on “Closing the Cancer Divide” between resource-rich and resource-poor contexts – a topic Global Health Fellow Elizabeth Lilly, Class of 2016, is researching for her symposium project.
A session on Maternal and Child Health highlighted the work of the Lwala Community Alliance (Milton Ochieng, one of the founders, was my sister’s good friend from Dartmouth – small world!), mothers2mothers International, and Mercy Corps to improve neonatal morality rates, eliminate pediatric AIDS, and implement community health workers’ outreach.
Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and Sonia Ehrlich Sachs, Director of Health in the Millennium Village Project, served as the keynote addresses on Sunday. They focused on the great strides in global health in the past decade (consistent decline in “Under 5 Mortality Rate;” better diagnostics, communications, transport, medicines; universal health care is within reach; ICT applications). They introduced the campaign for one million community health workers to be working in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015.
There were so many other interesting talks and highlights from the conference: mHealth and mobile technology; film screenings followed by discussions with the filmmaker; advice on careers in global health; how design plays a role in global health interventions; social businesses; environmental health. I could go on and on.
The six current and the five newly-minted Global Health Fellows were at the forefront of my mind all weekend. Though our program is still in its infancy, I could see our Fellows standing up to “pitch” their ideas to the global health community at this conference one day in the not-too-distant future.