Global Health Symposium: To improve global health, cure diseases at their roots

Global Health Symposium: To improve global health, cure diseases at their roots

adewale troutman speaking at global health symposium
Adewale Troutman, M.D., president-elect of the American Public Health Association, stressed the importance of creating sustainable improvements in public health at the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance's inaugural Global Health Symposium. The symposium reflects a growing interest in the topic of global health at Christiana Care and around the state.

You’re on a riverbank and you start to see babies floating by. What do you do?

You jump in and save the babies. But to make a sustainable difference, you also need to look upriver to see who’s throwing the babies in.

That is the challenge of improving global health, said Adewale Troutman, M.D., president-elect of the American Public Health Association, in his keynote address to the first Global Health Symposium of the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance, Feb. 4 in the Ammon Center.

“We spend so much of our time pulling babies out of the water,’’ he said. For instance, “we spend time screening for hypertension so we can treat people. We don’t look to see why they’re developing hypertension.’’

The Global Health Symposium attracted about 60 attendees from all four of the alliance partners—Thomas Jefferson University, Nemours, the University of Delaware and Christiana Care—including medical and undergraduate students, residents, nurses, physicians, researchers and other professionals from disciplines as varied as anthropology, public health, psychology and library science. What unites them is a common interest in improving lives by eliminating health inequities around the world.

“Global health issues affect the most vulnerable,’’ said Omar Khan, M.D., symposium chair. “At the broadest and most fundamental level, our aim is to improve the health of all people in the world.’’

The symposium is part of a new effort to provide a global-health curriculum at Christiana Care. It comes in response to what speakers at the symposium and in prior interviews described as a burgeoning desire for education in international health issues.

“There’s very high interest in global health, particularly in medical students who come looking for residencies,’’ said John Donnelly, who interviews many residency candidates. “They understand the mission of it. They understand our jobs as physicians should include looking at people around the world that don’t have what we have.’’

That interest is what led Karla Testa, M.D., a medical pediatrics resident, and two other residents, Christopher Prater, M.D., and Audrey Merriam, M.D., to create a survey aimed at gauging residents’ demand for a global-health curriculum track at Christiana Care. Of the 105 who responded, 78 percent said it’s an important option and 55 percent said they’d be interested in participating.

Encouraged, the team worked with Dr. Donnelly, Dr. Khan and Susan Thompson, D.O., to create the curriculum that launched last summer. The two-year program includes 11 faculty or guest lectures each year, two journal clubs and grand rounds. On March 1, Cliff O’Callahan, M.D., faculty of Yale Pediatrics Global Health Track and director of Nurseries at Middlesex Hospital, Middletown, Conn., will present grand rounds at the Ammon Center auditorium at 8 a.m. The topic: “Global Development Goals (and the Role of the Individual in Changing the World.)”

The lectures are open to all and have attracted participation from all parts of the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance.

January’s talk on helminths and parasites (alliteratively titled “Pick-pocketed by Pinworm: the Burden of Parasites in the Developing World) by Wesley Emmons, M.D., drew a dozen or so listeners, including residents, attending physicians and nurses. Kevin Smallwood, a physician’s assistant in the audience, said he was there because he’s going on a medical mission to Honduras in March. “I thought I could learn more about what I might be seeing there,’’ Smallwood said.

Education, not only about specific diseases but also about cultures and what Dr. Troutman called “the causes of the causes’’ of health problems—the social determinants that affect individuals and communities, such as poverty, injustice, powerlessness—is often missing from well-meaning health efforts. Dr. Troutman, who has worked in many countries with the World Health Organization, in academia and as a local health officer, said he has seen “people who are doing research on people they know nothing about. They drop in, do research and leave, leaving nothing for the community.’’

That is what Dr. Khan and colleagues say they hope to avoid. To begin to tackle the enormous problems of the developing world in ways that are sustainable will require education, collaboration among medical and academic institutions and lasting partnerships with the people in communities and countries where the work is being done.

“We don’t want to say, ‘here’s a disaster, here’s your stethoscope. Go solve problems,’’’ Khan said. “You can’t be part of the solution without knowing what the problems are.’’

Global Health Curriculum upcoming lectures

All talks are at 5:30 p.m. in the John H. Ammon Medical Education Center unless otherwise noted.

  • Feb. 23:  “Tuberculosis,” Anand Panwalker, M.D., Infectious Disease. Room 14.
  • March 1: “Global Development Goals (and the Role of the Individual in Changing the World,” Cliff O’Callahan, M.D., Yale/Middlesex. Main auditorium, 8 a.m.
  • March 22: “Child Health,” Amanda Kay, M.D., Pediatrics. A.I. DuPont conference room, 3rd floor, 6:30 p.m.
  • April 19: “Health Systems and the WHO,” Henry Benarey Ph.D., M.Sc. (Hon), World Health Organization. Room 14.
  • May 17: TBA.
  • June 14: “Global Health Careers,” Laura Eloyan, MBA, Global Health Specialist at Centers for Disease Control. Room 14.

Photo gallery: Global Health Symposium

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