Nothing short of life changing - that is my response when asked to sum up my experience at the Unite for Site: Global Health and Innovation Conference.
There were so many things about this trip that made it worthwhile: the people who I travelled with, the sessions I attended and the many things that I learned. The one session that really resonated with me was a keynote address by the incredible Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the Rwandan Minister of Health. She has not only proved her intelligence by completing numerous degrees while in office but has also proved to the world that any healthcare system can be mended with hard work and dedication. She has focused most of her efforts on the poorest of the poor by ridding the pervasive presence of healthy inequities, what she referred to as the “double standard”. During her time as minister, she has witnessed remarkable results: significant decreases in childhood mortality, HIV prevalence and the like. Her presentation really helped me put things into perspective; recovering a ridden healthcare system is not an impossible task.
I learned something new in every single presentation that I attended. I was able to venture through the terrains of Kenya, examine the role that gender plays in malaria; understand the ethical dilemmas associated with triaging patients with eye concerns in India and the health benefits of educating prisoners in New Mexico about the components of a healthy lifestyle. I was able to witness innovations that are going to change the global health world.
Before coming on this trip, I had no idea what my future held – now I see the possibilities. I have a better understanding of the tools needed to challenge health disparities. I also have been inspired to challenge the norm, many presenters suggested that healthcare systems are failing because people continue to inject the same ideas into a system; we need to be innovative and make a difference. Even if the change seems insignificant, it will surely have an impact on someone.
Even though innovators should challenge the norm, it is still crucial to be cognizant of the people- their needs, concerns and culture. It should be a priority to listen and heed their advice about the issues they are facing as a community. This is one point that Dr. Binghawaho emphasized and this is something that should be used when strategizing with any population, never minding their culture or economic status. This is the future of successful innovations.
Overall, this experience was revitalizing. I never once felt overwhelmed or stressed, this was due to the superb organizational skills and team work that the trip’s leaders Tara, Emma and Safi exemplified. From the very first meeting to the very last remarks on the bus ride home – all the participants were made to feel like part of the Health Studies team. I really hope that the Health Studies Faculty will allow for future generations of students to experience this engaging and extremely informative conference! We need to challenge ourselves, we need to become innovators; this is the perfect opportunity to hone these skills!
For he who has health has hope; and he who has hope, has everything. - Owen Arthur