This last week I was able to attend the 28th Canadian Conference on Global Health in Toronto, on the theme “Towards Inclusive Global Health: Research and Practice Priorities in Uncertain Times”. There were many topics discussed, including vaccine distribution, equity in research and neglected tropical diseases. There were several takeaways, here are three that stood out to me:
Dr. Perez-Brumer presented on global health and introduced global health as a paradox between preventable suffering and scientific productivity. Specifically, does global health make health or does it make data? She discussed how global health data is often manipulated to meet the needs of the study and the surrounding political economy.
This stood out to me as I consider the barriers in the global health sector regarding implementing interventions and generating change. The importance for evidence-based practice and interventions is becoming increasingly understood, however, the parameters regarding when evidence becomes enough to act are less understood or potentially ignored.
We need to consider who is benefiting from ongoing data extraction and why there is the constant push for more health data, albeit lacking the same push for health.
With the theme of the conference being related to inclusive global health, there were a lot of sessions and discussion surrounding equity, often within the context of the global north and global south.
Dr. Madhukar Par discussed how we have had many opportunities to be allies and we have chosen not to, highlighting the lack of equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution and vaccine patents as an example. He discussed that global health is not about “charity”. Rather, it is about listening, and promoting autonomy. What the global south wants is clear if we listen to them, but for this to be successful, self-determination needs to not only be understood but supported.
There is a difference between donating COVID-19 vaccines and supporting efforts for low-and-middle-income countries to make their own vaccines. He argued that we do not want countries to rely on Canada, we want to promote self-determination. If every country can oversee their own vaccine production, global health security increases, resulting in all of us being safer. Although this example was about vaccines, the concept behind it is applicable to a variety of global health issues.
Many presentations discussed the challenges of maintaining equity amidst uncertain times and crises. Specifically, Dr. Julia Smith discussed challenges with the diversion of public health resources to the presenting crisis, either producing or illuminating inequity in other areas and places. For example, during the Ebola outbreak, resources were diverted resulting in an increase in mortality during childbirth.
Additionally, during emergencies, there can be a command-and-control style of decisions. You have less time to consult, as well as less time for people to question decisions. This can contribute to a reduction in collaboration, evaluation and appropriateness.
Related to this, presenters discussed how COVID-19 has shown a lack of consideration for equity-deserving groups in pandemic response plans, contributing to an increase in poor health outcomes. Therefore, a potentially promising place to start for future emergencies, is to include equity in planning and preparedness.
Lauren Wiebe is a member of our youth working group. She has a bachelor’s degree from UBC majoring in Public Health and Political Science, an MSc in Public Health Promotion and Disease Prevention from the Karolinska Institute, and is currently completing her BSN at UBC, primarily working in the ER. She is the Special Projects Director for Inspire Community Outreach, a non-profit working with youth and families with neurological differences and mental health challenges. She is an Emergency Responder volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross and on the Board of Directors for HealthBridge Foundation of Canada.