Global Health Needs Reform: Reflections from the Canadian Conference on Global Health

Global health has been an inequitable space for many, especially for those who have faced systemic marginalization. The global health sector has been welcoming and safe only for those who are privileged: white, cis-gender, male-presenting and those residing in high-income countries. Whether in a community setting or an academic setting, the global health sector exists to benefit the people who have been historically and systemically marginalized (racialized communities, people with disabilities, gender-diverse people in low-income countries and more). 

How do we advocate for global health reform? Here are a few takeaways on global health challenges from speakers at the 2022 Canadian Conference on Global Health:

The keynote speaker, Abia Akram, from Pakistan, called for an intersectional lens in global health. Akram advocated for the rights of women with disabilities and talked about their fight for basic human rights, including healthcare. Women and girls with disabilities continue to face gender-based violence. Akram discussed the need for inclusive spaces for people with disabilities, including ramps and accessible buildings. Akram called for “devices that enable us to be us without changing us”.

Similarly, Dr. Madhu Pai called for a shift in who global health is “centred” on. Dr. Pai said, “global health is centred on people like us and that is the problem”. During his talk, Dr. Pai stated that 70-80% of grants in global health research are given to people in high-income countries like Canada and that researchers based in high-income countries continue to dominate publications. Dr. Pai called for justice in global health, shifting away from saviorism and charity.

Now, what does justice in global health look like? The plenary session on “Realizing Indigenous Maternal Child Health” shed light on some principles of change. The session speakers Dr. Alexandra King, Cheryllee Bourgeois, Dr. Karen Lawford, Norma Rabbitskin and Dr. Samir Shaheen Hussain, advocated for the health disparities faced by Indigenous communities. This included the need for healthcare providers to become allies with Indigenous communities, the need to practice decolonization, empowering Indigenous-led knowledge and solutions, the importance of education on the histories of oppression that Indigenous communities have faced and the use of trauma-informed care in maternal and child health. It is crucial that we learn from Indigenous communities because they are the experts.

During my attendance at the conference, I was able to present a project: Family and Caregiver Insights on Early Psychosis in India and Canada, led by Dr. Srividya Narayanan Iyer at McGill University. Some of the equitable takeaways in the context of global health work from this project are: (1) the importance of partnerships created with researchers in low and middle-income countries and (2) the significance of the research team having a diversity of lived experiences. 

Global health researchers in high-income countries must give credit to the astonishing work of those in low-income countries. To make global health inclusive and equitable, we must create mutually beneficial relationships with the communities we work with and we must give them autonomy over the work being done.

Meet the author:

Hani Rukh-E-Qamar is the Founder of the Canadian Advisory of Women Immigrants (CAWI), a community initiative dedicated to empowering immigrant women. Currently, she is pursuing a B.Sc. in Psychology with a double minor in Health Geography and International Development Studies at McGill University, where she is also a Global Health Scholar. As a Global Health Scholar at McGill, Hani supported a project on family factors and psychosis in India and Canada. In addition, she serves on the Steering Committee for Women in Global Health (WGH), at the Canadian Association for Global Health (CAGH). This summer, Hani worked as a Research Assistant with Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Maternal Health Task Force. Hani is also the Co-Chair of the Youth Working Group at the Canadian Partnership for Women’s and Children’s Health (CanWaCH).

Hani has received various awards for her work, including the McGill Scarlet Key Society Award, the Top 25 Canadian Immigrants finalist, and CAMIMH’s Champion of Mental Health Award. Her work has also been published in the news, particularly her nonprofit work with immigrant women and girls. This year, Hani supported the Canadian Delegation to the Commission on Population and Development as the Canadian Youth Delegate. Additionally, Hani is passionate about conducting research and community work regarding equitable access to healthcare, social determinants of health, and the rights of immigrants and refugees. Connect with Hani on LinkedIn.


January 20, 2023


Hani Rukh-E-Qamar