It is difficult to describe in words how thankful I am to have been a part of this experience. For me, the lead up to the conference was quite like waiting for Christmas. You are incredibly excited about it and do your best to prepare—the preparation in this case being doing the application, going to meetings once accepted, and researching different seminar topics and presenters. When the time finally comes you are giddy, wide eyed ready to take every moment in.
Attending the 12th annual Global Health and Innovation Conference hosted by Unite for Sight was a surreal opportunity. The conference was host to the world’s best and brightest leaders in global health and it was an honour to hear about all the great work that they have been doing. My favourite keynote speaker was the Minster of Health for Rwanda, Dr.Agnes Binagwaho. Dr. Agnes was incredibly passionate about her country, her people and their health. She was unapologetic about the initiatives that she has been putting forth to improve the lives of the citizens of Rwanda and the great accomplishments that have been achieved for the country. What I got from her talk was that if you believe in the things that you are doing, and work hard to reach the goals you have set, anything can be accomplished despite the initial bleakness of the situation.
The conference had an abundance of knowledgeable speakers on a wide variety of topics. The wide breadth of global health topics that were being discussed made me quite aware of all the issues that people are facing internationally. These issues included sanitation problems, food shortage, maternal care, and inefficient healthcare infrastructure; it was inspiring to see all the different ways that people went about tackling pressing and stubborn global problems. The most inspiring part was that solutions ranged from complex medical techniques or long programs that needed to be implemented over a long period of time to quite simple ones that may not seem like an obvious solution to a health problem. An example of this is a session that I went to at the end of the first conference day, called “Educational Media for Health Improvements.” This focused on how media like television shows and video games can help to improve the health of children. My favourite talk from this session was by an employee from Sesame Street. In Bangladesh, Nigeria and India, there has been large cholera out breaks, a water born disease that is easily spread in regions with poor sanitation. Since Sesame Street is made for children around the world they decided to make a targeted programming for the countries with cholera issues. To combat this a new character was created named, Raya. Raya, is a Muppet made to appeal to the target population of the children in the three stated countries. To do this they made her a teal coloured humanoid, wearing a tunic and pants, hair styled in braids. Raya is friends with Elmo, and together they sing songs about using the latrines and how to properly wash hands. Sesame even gets the show out to remote villages an areas where families do not have televisions by brining rickshaws with TVs attached to the kids! The children that were exposed to the show got were given surveys, which showed that Raya a majority favourite character, they understood that she wanted them to be healthy, and that compared to the other Muppets Raya never got sick because she practiced effective hand washing.
No matter which session I went to I was able to apply concepts that I have learned from my health studies classes. Many projects dealt with social determinants of health, such as income, education, or social environment. It was great to be able to go to presentations and understand the implementation and evaluation methods that were used by the researchers. At times it can be difficult to understand the purpose of certain concepts when it is only textbook learning. Going to events such as the Global Health and Innovation conference is a good forum to see how applicable and relevant the principles being taught are to work being done all over the world.
In addition to the conference itself, the people that I attended it with also helped to make it a great experience. There were 40 plus exceptional health studies students on the trip and I was also able to learn from them. We were able to bounce ideas of health off one another and discuss different areas of interest with each other. I think I gained a lot from speaking with some of the upper year students, about courses, involvement in the Western community as well as future options and paths to look into. I am glad to say that I was able to make new friends from this trip, on top of having an enriching educational experience.