Health conference sparks dialogue

Over the weekend, the world’s largest global health conference descended on New Haven.

The Global Health & Innovation Conference, presented by Unite For Sight, provided an opportunity for more than 2,000 academics, students and professionals from around the world to share their work in the health fields. Keynote addresses at the Shubert Theater covered a range of topics, from how advertisements can promote healthy eating to efforts aimed at reducing environmental toxins.

“I really love it,” said Greg Yurgham, a senior at the University of Notre Dame. “You just get the feeling here that the conference is at the forefront of modern medicine.”

Some speakers also addressed the issue of engaging a broad audience to a cause.

One of the conference’s 14 workshops, lead by health care journalist Eve Heyne, focused on teaching how to communicate issues in global health through translating science into language accessible to the general public. Heyne also shared advice for using Twitter and Facebook to attract potential donors to a public health initiative, emphasizing the importance of narrative over statistics.

Seth Godin, the founder of Squidoo and one of the seven keynote speakers, talked about the importance of presentation in garnering interest.

“Change gets made by telling a story to people who want to hear it, and telling a story that’s true, and telling a story that’s emotional and [connecting] to them in a way to make them want to change and tell that story to other people,” Godin said.

The conference also drew researchers who study different aspects of the health care systems across the globe who shared their work at a poster session on Saturday at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School.

Dana Van der Heide, an MD/PhD student at the University of Iowa, displayed her work on the correlation between proximity to roads and child malnutrition rates in Haiti. For her, the talk was a great opportunity to learn more about technological innovations that might help her in her own field such as electronic medical records.

Elain Ooi SPH ’81, who works in evaluations at the World Bank, said it was refreshing to visit a conference with so many passionate young activists since the health care industry is so often filled with “pedantic” bureaucracy.

Many smaller lectures focused on engaging college students. Emily Conron, the resource development coordinator at Sabin Vaccine Institute, spoke on Saturday about the need for more students to be involved in grass-roots movements.

Conron also spoke on Saturday about the need for greater publicity surrounding neglected tropical diseases. The most recent United States federal budget has reduced preventative funding for these diseases abroad, and Conron said this decision places many individuals in those countries at risk.

College students in attendance called the conference a valuable networking opportunity. New York University student Mrudula Naidu said she was excited to talk to attendees about innovations in designing solutions to global health problems.

Conference attendees hailed from all 50 states and 55 different countries.

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