I have just returned from the Canadian Association of Global Health’s 2022 Canadian Conference on Global Health in Toronto. Its important theme, “Towards inclusive global health: research and practice priorities in uncertain times”, was a definite focus across the three days!
This was my first conference since the COVID-19 pandemic, and although I have been back in the field (Malawi in September for a UNICEF evaluation), this was my first in-person conference in three years. As a person working in public health, I was very happy that there was strong messaging at the conference around mask wearing. Tests and masks were available if people needed them; and there were Aerox air purifiers throughout the space (and I checked the CO2 level in the room, and it was around 400 – so this was a good sign!)
With health protocols accounted for, I was very pleased to see a number of colleagues for the first time in a while and catch up in person. The conference was a hybrid event, so there were still many people presenting online for some sessions, including Anita Vandenbeld, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of International Development.
Equity and Inclusion Focus
The equity focus was apparent throughout the conference, with many sessions focused on the critical theme of decolonizing global health as well as the importance of inclusion (including people from the South as well as people living with disabilities and people who are transgender).
How to be a Global Health Ally
In the opening plenary, Dr. Madhu Pai from McGill University rallied the crowd with his ideas on how to be an ally in global health, including the need to move from a focus on “charity, philanthropy, aid, donations, development assistance, saviorism, and dependency” to a focus on “human rights equity and social justice, reparations, autonomy, respect, self-determination and self-sustenance”.
COVID-19 as a Conference Focus
Over the three day conference, COVID-19 was also a focus of much of the discussions, as COVID-19 highlighted the gross inequities between the North and the South, including in terms of who was able to access vaccinations in a timely manner despite the COVAX mechanism, as well as the need for decentralization of vaccine manufacturing, so that countries in Africa are able to produce their own vaccines.
Local Implementation as Key to Inclusivity
In a plenary on the importance of local implementation for inclusivity, concrete examples to increase inclusivity included: involving the local community in ethics applications; ensuring end users are included in writing proposals, implementing projects, and monitoring projects; and collecting race-based data in Canada, since equity cannot be a goal if data is not available. Other ideas were also highlighted from an article on diversifying implementation science.
Example Projects and Resources
We heard examples of different projects and activities that were underway such as Women RISE,a women’s health and economic empowerment project focused on action and gender transformation on women’s paid and unpaid work and their health in a COVID-19 recovery context, and PEERS,Partnership for Evidence and Equity in Responsive Social Systems, which promotes evidence use in policy in 13 countries. We also heard about efforts to develop momentum for a global health strategy in Canada.
While many examples were academic focused, we also heard from non-governmental perspectives. One session focused on the Gender Transformative Framework for Nutrition developed by a number of non-governmental organizations in Canada. In a session led by CanWaCH, strategies for decolonization in succession planning for the board of the Canadian Network for International Surgery were offered.
The overall message I walked away from the conference with was that, not surprisingly, disruption in global health is needed. There is still much work to be done in terms of how to practically achieve this disruption in global health, given major issues as the entrenched colonial system inherent in global health work. But it is clear that many people from around the world who attended the conference in-person and online were working on how best to make this a reality.
Elizabeth Dyke has been a consultant since 2008, working with governments, NGOs, universities, and private organizations in a broad range of health and social areas, including gender, health care, chronic disease prevention, infectious diseases, and the social determinants of health. Her consulting work includes monitoring and evaluation, research, writing/medical writing, strategic development, capacity development, policy analysis, knowledge translation/synthesis, and facilitation services in the health and social development sectors. Click here to connect with Elizabeth on LinkedIn.