Start Where You Are, Use What You Have, Do What You Can

Adelaide Global Health Conference 2017 Closing Address

 

Good afternoon, wonderful GHC delegates. I’m Liz, the Chair of AMSA Global Health and a final year medical student at Flinders.  As some of you would have heard yesterday, my experiences in global health have taken me from Adelaide, to Tennant Creek, to Oxford, to Geneva, and to Tanzania, but GHC has always held a special place in my heart and attending my first GHC was one of the first steps on my global health journey.

I wanted to start by taking some time to reflect on my time with AMSA Global Health this year. AMSA Global Health is a team of 22 people from around the country who work year round to advocate for, represent and educate medical students like you on global health issues. We focus on refugee and asylum seeker health, climate health, sexual and reproductive health and most recently non-communicable diseases.

There have been so many incredible moments this year, from watching Sib, one of our Crossing Borders For Health National Project managers, shine in her first radio interview on refugee and asylum seeker health; to watching Georgia, our Vice Chair Operations seamlessly put the Council agenda together; to reading the amazing divestment action plan for AMSA put together by the Code Green National Project Managers, the Belles; to seeing Carrie publish the first copy of Vector, our student written, peer-reviewed global health journal, in two years and then watch her guard the hard, print copies with her life! I’ve participated in AMSA Global Health meetings from Byron Bay, from Alice Springs, Darwin, Geneva and most recently using dodgy airport internet in Tanzania, and every single one has been a joy.

I would like to thank my AMSA Global Health team for all of the amazing work they have done this year. It has been a privilege to work with each and everyone one of you and it has been incredible to watch your passion grow into tangible products that have benefited so many.

At GHC, we are given the chance to learn how phenomenal and passionate individuals – who are often our idols – are making change. We are inspired, challenged and empowered to then go forth and change ourselves. I still remember sitting in plenary hall in Hobart at my first GHC in 2013, listening to Julian Burnside talk about his work in refugee and asylum seeker advocacy. It was one of the first times I actually heard about the impacts of immigration detention and I started crying because I had never heard someone speak so candidly about its devastating mental health effects. I could not believe that this was happening in our country and that our government was knowingly subjecting vulnerable people to institutionalised torture. After a small period of feeling hopeless, I began to get angry. It was this seed of anger that has fuelled my passion for health inequalities more broadly since then and I think this is a reason why I am up here today.

However, if you had told me then that four years from now, I would have been able to learn about global health research with the George Institute in Oxford, I would have been fortunate enough to spend 6 weeks being inspired by global health babe, Sandro Demaio at the WHO in Geneva, and that I would eventually publish an article with Julian Burnside in the Lancet calling for immediate action on refugee and asylum seeker health, I would not have believed you. But it all started at GHC.

And so I would to thank Holly and her amazing team for this fantastic event. Since that first GHC in Hobart, this conference has gone from strength to strength and it would not be possible without individuals like you.

This conference has given us the ability to challenge ourselves in many different areas.  We have been provided with an opportunity to realise our strengths, as well as our faults and imperfections. But it is not enough to be inspired. There is too much to be done. We do not have the luxury of apathy and you cannot afford to waste time thinking that you are too small to make a difference.

I encourage all of you to leave here and be productive with the seed of inspiration that has been planted this week. Continue to challenge yourself to make change and always foster inquisitiveness and love of global health.  Ensure that you it, watch it grow and share its fruit with those around you. This might be something as simple as starting a conversation with someone using some of the knowledge you gained, it could be putting pen to paper and recording your ideas to share with others, it could be joining a local advocacy group doing great work that you are passionate about in your community, or it could be joining an organisation like AMSA Global Health.

Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.

AMSA Global Health Chair 2017, Liz Bennett

Photo credit

Karl Asmussen, Vienna Tran

Correspondance

liz.bennett@amsa.org.au

 

Where to Now?

Vector Journal & GHC Writing Competition

 

What: “We are resolved to free the human race within this generation from the tyranny of poverty and want, and to heal and secure our planet for the present and for future generations.” – The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Society is at a critical juncture in world history whereby a fragile balance exists between global health, effects of modern-life, social constructs, politics and economy.[1] The 2003 SARS epidemic encapsulates how unprecedented population growth and adverse living conditions have facilitated cross-species shift of organisms.[1] Despite incredible medical advances, our exponential increase in knowledge has not matched public health progress as seen with the re-emergence of polio in conflict-affected areas.[2]

Why: “If we see injustice, why can’t we make a change right now?” – Mr Kon Karapanagiotidis GHC 2017

From conversing with Dr Stewart Condon, poor application of knowledge due to differing political/financial agendas have largely been to blame. These stem from a failure of stakeholders/society to appreciate the ‘complex links between social and economic aspects’ [1] of disease and address health at a world-population level.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no shortage of resources to improve global health,[3] only a lack of moral imagination and political will to change long-standing, inefficient healthcare systems and implement strategies to broaden attitudes towards health.

Where to now? “The world is coming to recognise more and more that problems in one country reverberate in another…this is why it is so important to make the most of our collective strengths.”  – Ban Ki Moon

Moving forward, societal introspection are shifting from a narrow, monetised view of global health to a multi-faceted appreciation for an interdependent world that can drive forces for change. Greater emphasis should be placed on collaboration to address health inequalities and social determinants of health.

As privileged medical students with access to platforms that engage our community, we can challenge the complacency of those who don’t fully comprehend the magnitude of impact every individual has on others less fortunate. As future doctors, we should endeavour to couple excellent care of individual patients to public health programs that more efficiently disseminates information and healthcare.

Although the way forward is challenging, it’s not impossible with positive steps such as the creation of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) aiming to efficiently develop new vaccines to prevent epidemics.

“It is because it is so dark that we need to burn the brightest right now.”

– Mr Kon Karapanagiotidis GHC 2017

Helena Qian

Helena is a 3rd year medical student at the University of Newcastle with a keen interest in improving global health and aiding underserved communities. She hopes to work with WHO and MSF in the future as a collaborative researcher, advocate, field doctor and volunteer.

Conflicts of Interest

None declared 

Correspondance

helena.qian@uon.edu.au

References

  1. Solomon R Benatar Global Health: Where to Now? Retrieved 2017, August 19; Last Updated Unknown; Global Health Governance, 2009;11;2 Available from: <http://www.ghgj.org/Benatar_Global%20Health.pdf>
  2. Akil L, Ahmad HA. The recent outbreaks and reemergence of poliovirus in war and conflict-affected areas.Retrieved 2017, August 19; Last Updated 2016; International journal of infectious diseases : IJID : official publication of the International Society for Infectious Diseases. 2016;49:40-46. doi:10.1016/j.ijid.2016.05.025.
  3. Benatar, Daar, and Singer, “Global health ethics: the rationale for mutual caring”; Benatar, Gill and Bakker, “Making progress in global health: the need for new paradigms.” Retrieved 2017, August 21; Last Updated Unknown