[by Rachel Hampton and Michelle Moglia]
On April 17, 2009, we headed to Yale for the two-day, 6th Annual Unite For Site Conference. It was a breath of fresh air to be out of DC and surrounded by students and student-friendly professors and programmers.
Students presented several innovative projects, ranging from applications of SODIS for drinking water purification in Panama, to engineering wheelchairs for Africa, to measuring access to cancer treatment in Ethiopia.
The theme of the conference was “Achieving Global Goals through Innovation.” We’d like to present some highlights from the weekend.
Our Favorite Keynote Speakers:
- Dr Susan Blumenthal, the Former US Assistant Surgeon General and Professor at Georgetown and Tufts. Dr. Blumenthal provided a broad, yet thorough overview of progress on infectious diseases and the increasing burden of chronic diseases, including cancer and diabetes. She also told a story about how she called up the CIA to apply defense technology to mammography in order to improve detection of breast cancer.
- Dr Jeffrey Sachs. Dr. Sachs emphasized the importance of staying “on track” to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and urged the audience to hold international leaders accountable for their promises to improve global health by 2015. If the international community fails to meet this goal, Sachs proposed that we “raise the stakes” and call for complete ends to maternal and child mortality, infectious disease, and poverty by 2025.
- Dr. Sonia Erlich Sachs, Jeffrey Sachs Wife, on the Millennium Village Project. Dr Erlich Sachs presented newly gathered data from their longest running project in Kenya, which affirms the endeavor’s successes. Learn more at: http://www.millenniumvillages.org/
New Perspectives on Brain Drain
A Plenary Panel on effective global health delivery moderated by Al Sommer. The panelists included Scott Corlew, Margaret Duah-Mensah, Harshad Sanghvi, and Seth Wanye.
- This panel discussed major issues facing product and service delivery, including technical expertise, mobilization of resources, community acceptance, community participation, and maximizing efficiency.
- While many of the panelists said that brain drain was a problem that needed to be prevented by providing doctors, nurses and researchers with incentives to stay in their countries, Dr. Sanghvi said that brain drain is not necessarily a negative trend.
- He used the following example to illustrate his point: “when a country exports coffee, we don’t call it ‘coffee drain,’ so why should we call the migration of workers brain drain?'” It is an interesting point that we hope to hear elaborated at another time.
New Perspectives of the Public vs. Private Debate
Harvard School of Health and School of Business professors, Dr. David Bloom and Michael Chu. They made an argument for using the private sector to address public health needs.
- Dr. Bloom provided an overview of Harvard’s Project Antares, an initiative to examine public health priority-setting and the role of the private sector in achieving public health goals.
- He also discussed the role of commercial media (MTV, etc.) in disseminating information and behavior change without commanding people to act a specific way – an alternative to the strategies taken by many publicly-funded campaigns.
- Mr. Chu examined the problem of poverty and argued that only businesses can provide the scale, permanence, efficacy and efficiency necessary to alleviate this problem.
- He gave examples of several very successful private sector programs in Latin America, including Farmacias Similares, a pharmacy chain in Mexico that provides medicines and drugs at a discounted cost and provides health care for customers at clinics attached to each store.
Advocacy Communication Channels
At the last plenary session on Sunday, a representative of RESULTS for development, one of GHC’s members, finally stood up and said what we had been wondering all weekend. The conference attendees – be they students, program implementers or professors, have stories to tell and questions to ask and ideas to share that people don’t hear everyday in DC. Better channels for communication are needed between policymakers and these attendees, who represent GHC’s body of members.
The US government, one of several prominent donor governments, though a very large one at that, has billions of dollars to spend on global health each year. It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that money is allocated in the best ways. Hopefully channels for information sharing and discussion, like this blog, will serve to facilitate this dialogue.
Furthermore, members, particularly students, could benefit greatly from a lesson in how advocacy to the US government works. Fortunately, there is a session at our Annual Conference on Wed May 27th devoted specifically to this topic. (link to http://www.globalhealth.org/conference_2009/view_top.php3?id=943)
Visit the Unite for Site website: http://www.uniteforsight.org/