The Shubert Theater at Yale University was filled with the biggest names in health and innovation last weekend. This year, Yale was the site of the twelfth-annual Global Health and Innovation Conference, the world’s leading and largest global health conference. It is presented anually by Unite For Sight, a nonprofit global health delivery organization.
On March 28 and 29, members of the Vassar Haiti Project (VHP) and ProHealth attended the conference to listen to some of the most innovative and insightful thinkers in their fields.
With 2,200 participants, it would have been easy to sit back and just listen, but VHP made sure to take an active role in the conference. “Vassar Haiti Project applied to present on behalf of our organization at the conference back in the fall,” Mildred Nelson ’16 wrote in an emailed statement. The VHP’s presentation at Yale was to gain feedback for their health initiative in Chermaitre, a small village in Haiti.
Director of the VHP’s Health Initiative, Manrose Singh ’15 explained that the clinic the organization has established there serves the residents of 30 villages in the mountains surrounding Chermaitre. There, a Haitian doctor and nurse provide daily health care access. Singh wrote, “My presentation was on how clinic is operating so far, how it engages the community, challenges we face and what we’re looking forward to in the future.”
He added, “Presenting at the conference was a real opportunity to engage actual experts in the field of development and public health. It was also a way to hear critiques about our project and consider new ways to improve our partnerships and clinic management,” He wrote in an emailed statement. “We try to continually challenge ourselves to become more socially conscious and cognizant of the ways we can improve and presenting was chance to do so,” he added.
The conference featured speakers from all over the world. Samantha Augenbraun ’17, who attended the conference for the first time as a member of ProHealth, wrote in an emailed statement, “I was amazed by how far people had traveled for the conference and it was exciting to be surrounded by people from all corners of the world who share a common interest.” The conference offered a wide variety of opportunity for participants to build on knowledge they’d learned in the classroom or to learn things they may never hear elsewhere. With so many speakers, participants’ schedules were left flexible so they could to chose which lectures they went to or which speakers they wanted to hear.
Augenbraun wrote that she was able to attend lectures ranging from Responsible Global Engagement and Education to Health and Development Innovations. “The series of lectures on responsible global engagement were particularly interesting, especially to college students. Having the opportunity to volunteer abroad is such an exciting experience that it is easy to forget the purpose of a visit to another country,” She wrote. “The four speakers stressed the importance of understanding the culture of the country in which you are visiting.”
Nelson is one who has had such an experience abroad. Last summer of 2014 she went abroad to Bolivia, where she shadowed doctors at a hospital and worked as a medical scribe. “I will say that having the experience is the ultimate way for one to learn about global health problems. The distance between yourself and other cultures often prevents you from understanding the problems they face contextually and result in issues when you implement solutions that work someplace but won’t work in a different context,” she said.
All of the lectures weren’t just about finding oppurtunities abroad to make a difference, however. Serena Lee ’18 said her favorite lecture was a workshop called Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E). Though it sounds tedious, Lee found this information invaluable. “[It] put everything I previously learned about all the work global health organizations have been doing into practical use.” The talk was on tracking and analyzing data, a step Lee said she didn’t realize was so important. “It has the power of so much improvement for projects in global health. One of the ‘mysteries’ is that there was so much money going into Haiti, but no one really knows what happened with it,” she said. The M&E system, she explained, gives feedback and helps reduce wasteful spending. “I can apply it to any sort of project I decide to do from here on out,” said Lee.
For the atendees it was just as important to know the topics as well as the speaker. “The reason we try to attend this conference annually is because of the opportunities in networking with public health professionals and organizations as well the chance to learn about the cutting edge research that’s going on in public health,” Singh wrote. “Improving our project and our partnership with Chermaitre…includes learning about what others are doing.”
Though it wasn’t VHP’s or ProHealth’s first time attending, for first-timers Nelson and Augenbraun it was an unprecedented experience.
Nelson wrote, “If anything, it was astounding to see the collection of students (highschool-pHD), professionals, world leaders (the minister of health of Rwanda) all assembled together to learn from each other and share their experiences. Definitely a unique experience.”