UGHE’s Inaugural One Health Symposium Connects Previously Siloed Disciplines to Drive Collaboration

Symposium 2019

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The result of the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village live-painting performance, inspired by One Health concepts.

Natural disasters, the rise of new zoonotic diseases, continuous population growth, threats to wildlife; our world shifts rapidly and each change produces ripple effects. As global health practitioners, it is imperative to understand these interconnected relationships–an approach known as One Health–to inform better and stronger health outcomes.

In January, UGHE convened over 300 clinicians, environmentalists, government officials, students, and leaders from around the world in global health and academia for its inaugural research symposium, “Climate Change, Child Survival, and the Future of Global Health Equity.”  The two-day event, hosted in Kigali, Rwanda, brought together experts and students alike for dialogue on the emerging concept of One Health. Mirroring the concept’s focus on inclusive collaboration, UGHE’s Symposium united individuals who seldom have the opportunity to share their work and knowledge across sectors and continents.

“We are living in a time when those most vulnerable to our changing environment—children and the impoverished—are being neglected.” said Dr. Phaedra Henley, UGHE’s One Health Director and the Symposium organizer. “But, we are also at a time where we can still do something about it. A time for a paradigm shift, where cultural norms progress, and we rethink our relationship with the environment and how we train our next generation of professionals.”

As speakers and panelists led sessions that focused on the complex interplay among health care systems, children’s health, climate change, animal health, and the social determinants of health, common themes began to emerge.

Institutions Need to Breakdown Disciplinary Silos in Education

During an opening discussion on the role and responsibility of universities in driving One Health and equity agendas, panelists Dr. George Q. Daley, Dean of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Philip Cotton, Vice Chancellor of the University of Rwanda, Dr. Getnet Yimer, Eastern Africa Regional Director at the Global One Health Initiative at Ohio State University, Dr. Gary Gottlieb, CEO of Partners In Health, and Dr. Hellen Amuguni, Assistant Professor of Infectious Diseases and Global Health at Tufts University, stressed that the current challenges facing the global health landscape necessitate a cohort of leaders who are equipped to think multi-sectorally, beyond their unique siloes.

Offering recommendations for addressing the lack of multidisciplinary learning, Veterinarian and Executive Director of the Global One Health Initiative at Ohio State University, Dr. Wondwossen A. Gebreyes, encouraged universities to develop programs that draw from seemingly disparate academic disciplines, and begin integrating a community engagement element and experiential learning component to academic learning. Doing both, he argued, would allow students to develop a natural sense of innovation, encouraging them to view old problems from new angles, and expand their perspectives beyond the classroom to become more effective real-world thinkers and leaders.

Climate Change Affects The Most Vulnerable Populations

Data presented around the impact of climate change on health demonstrated that disruptive environmental shifts compounded existing inequities and amplified exposure to contaminants and the subsequent impact on child mortality.

“Children are much more vulnerable to the effects of pollution than the rest of our population,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, Founding Director of Boston College’s Global Public Health Program. “Reductions in intelligence, reductions in fertility, birth defects…children’s health is a the nexus of pollution, poverty, and injustice, particularly as pollution is very unfairly and inequitably distributed across the world.”

Speakers acknowledged the forward-looking aspect of One Health and stressed that the set of challenges students would face in their health careers would not look the same as prior generations, thus requiring a different mindset, one flexible with seeking knowledge across sectors.

The Future of One Health

When the Honorable Minister of Health of Rwanda, Dr. Diane Gashumba, addressed the crowd, she spoke directly to young leaders in the room, reminding them of their crucial role in catalyzing change.

“This is a unique opportunity that you have, to learn from these experts,” she said. “Treasure it and give your maximum effort, as well as take the maximum that all these resources have to offer. You are the future.”

During a panel discussion led by UGHE’s Master of Science in Global Health Delivery students, Dr. Arlene Nishimwe MGHD ‘19, reflected that prior to UGHE, she wasn’t familiar with One Health, nor had she considered the significant linkages between the environment and health in her work as a physician. She affirmed her appreciation for the ways that a One Health approach has allowed her to be a better physician, more effectively thinking about the environment surrounding her patients as she diagnoses.

Representatives of the next generation of leaders, students from Rwanda’s Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village were invited to share their talents and artistry with the crowd through spoken word, singing, and live-painting their own interpretation of One Health. The resulting painting, a singular eye surrounded on one side by peace and equity, and dismantled polluted systems on the other, highlighted the delicate yet enduring ecosystem that supports human, environmental, and animal health, as well as the crowd’s ability to see clearly these once-shrouded linkages.

UGHE’s Dean of Health Sciences, Dr. Abebe Bekele, closed out the symposium by encouraging these burgeoning connections to extend beyond the weekend, noting that, as academics and educators, attendees have a responsibility and role to play in shaping the empathy and collaborative nature of the next generation of global health leaders.

One Health started merely as a term to capture a wider, more abstract global health ideal. But with UGHE placing One Health at the forefront of learning, and connecting and learning from partners along the way, the kind of transformative global changes that students and experts envision have a chance to become tomorrow’s reality.

For a complete list of speakers and sessions, visit the Symposium webpage.