About 2,200 students, academics and professionals from all 50 states and 55 countries descended on New Haven over the weekend to exchange ideas about improving global health.
The gathering, part of the fifth annual Unite for Sight Conference, included talks and panel discussions on a range of global-health issues. Although Unite For Sight focuses primarily on vision and blindness prevention, the conference touched on numerous aspects of global health, ranging from water and dengue to HIV/AIDS and the health of international refugees.
The conference began with a talk by Unite for Sight founder and CEO Jennifer Staple ’03, who started the organization during her sophomore year at Yale. After screening a short video about the nonprofit and delivering a presentation of awards, Staple handed over the microphone to Jane Edwards, an associate dean of Yale College and director of the International Education and Fellowship Programs. Edwards expressed her appreciation for the work done by Unite for Sight, which she said is particularly important in a world that is “caught up in cultural differences and self-interest.”
Highlights of the two-day conference included a talk by Allan Rosenfeld, professor of public health and dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, who spoke on issues in women’s health.
He was followed by another giant in the field: Jim Yong Kim, co-founder of Partners in Health and former HIV/AIDS director of the World Health Organization. Kim spoke of bridging scientific discoveries to bear in global health, particularly through global-health delivery communities that bring the research and innovation of science to everyday people. And while recognizing the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS, he also highlighted what he said is its hidden value in global health today.
“HIV/AIDS is the perfect disease for global health because it is one that affects the poor and scares the rich,” Kim said, quoting public-health activist Bill Fagie.
Like speakers before him, Kim also strongly emphasized the need for those in medicine and public health to work together more closely — a theme that carried through many of the other events of the conference.
The conference attracted participants from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines.
“It’s a great way for young people to become aware and provides many local and international opportunities,” said attendee Abrahim Bagheri, a senior at Loyola Marymount University, who has worked in eye clinics in Chennai, India.
Others, like Jonathon Ostrem and Rachel Niehuus, MD/PhD students at the University of California at San Francisco, made the cross-country jaunt “hoping to find out what role physician-scientists can play in global health,” Ostrem said.
Gettysburg College health-science professor Cindy Wright said she drove from Pennsylvania with a group of her students in order “to better expose them to the global-health community.”
Unite for Sight has 4,000 volunteers and 90 chapters at universities around the world.