This blog is a reflection of the Consortium University Global Health (CUGH) 2021 virtual conference in March. During the conference, I was pleased to present a poster highlighting our R4HC-MENA capacity strengthening collaborative initiative between King’s College London (KCL) and Birzeit University (BZU) to design and deliver the course ‘Research Methods for Mental Health in Conflict’ to health professionals at BZU in 2018.

While I was sceptical about attending a conference virtually, I admit that I found the well-planned programme still enabled participants to deepen their knowledge, share their work, and identify new collaborators.  I found the entire conference experience amazing, and I am certainly taking forward new ideas to implement in my teaching and research. Nearly 2000 people registered from more than 100 nations.

The conference opened with Prof.  Michele Barry, Chair, CUGH, and Dr. Keith Martin, Executive Director, CUGH and Conference Executive Planning Committee, welcoming the attendees and exceptional opening keynotes. The Director-General WHO, Dr.Tedros, emphasised that ‘vaccine equity is essential for inclusive global health outcomes.’ Dr. Fauci underlined that a ‘global pandemic needs a global response’ and Dr. Hugo Lopez-Gatell highlighted that during the pandemic, ‘we suffered from anti science’ and ‘political hysteria’ which led to some ineffective practices. The session concluded with a very stimulating Q&A session from the floor.

The programme was packed with concurrent sessions including global leader interviews, plenary sessions, a poster programme, special events, and general sessions. Here are a few of the sessions I attended:

  • ‘Approaches to Addressing Gaps in Health Research in Conflict Settings’. In this symposia, Fouad Fouad and a team of researchers presented novel and critical approaches on health research in conflict settings implemented by the Global Health Institute at the American University of Beirut.
  • ‘Increasing Health Equity by confronting racism, bias, and discrimination in Health Workforce Education and Global Health.’ Students from different countries discussed inherently exclusionary requirements in higher education institutions, stereotyping, and inequity.
  • ‘Training the Next Generation of Global Health/One Health Professionals.’ The panellist presented the One Health project. Prof Jonna Mazet called for increasing collaboration between schools and ‘avoid working in independent silos’. Prof. Aini Ideris highlighted the importance of effective cooperation between different agencies, ministries, and government departments. The panellist advised the new generation of global health professionals to be the drivers of their path and agents of change.
  • ‘NIH Leaders Discuss Tackling NCDs as a Global Health Priority’. Dr. Joshua Gordon highlighted a gap between the mental health needs and the ability of countries to meet these needs appropriately and for the need for collaboration between local-based researchers and HIC researchers to build capacity. Dr. Diana Bianchi emphasised the need to focus on people who are usually excluded from research. Prof. Bruce Tromberg  talked about the annual awards on cost-effective technologies projects directed at LMIC.
  • ‘The Lancet Global Health- How to Get Published.’ Zoë Mullan, Editor-in-Chief, The Lancet Global Health, and Duc Le, Senior Executive Editor, The Lancet Regional Health Journal, explained their publication criteria.
  • ‘The Elephant in the Classroom: Colonialism and Neocolonialism as Key Social Determinants of Global Health Disparities.’ I found this to be my favourite session where presenters presented initiatives to decolonise curriculum in higher education. For example, Katherine Careaga shared her experience to decolonise undergraduate global health curriculum and teaching in North America by focusing on indigenous health and pedagogies and a shift from denaturalisation to indigenous collaboration. Shilpa Darivemula presented her unique approach using cultural arts to narrate stories of women in medicine.
  • ‘Global Leader Interview Series: Addressing Geopolitical Challenges with Richard Haas, President, Council on Foreign Relations’. Hass called for strengthening multilateralism to face transnational threats.
  • ‘Global Health Education in the COVID-19 Era: Frameworks, Evidence-Based Outcomes, and Curricular Adjustments’. I found these two initiatives to promote global learning experience interesting: global smart and Virtual Global Health Elective.
  • The ESSENCE Mechanism for Review of Investments in Research Capacity Strengthening in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Identifying and Addressing Critical Gaps.‘ Simon Kay from the Wellcome Trust suggested introducing online mentoring arrangements with fellows in LMIC funded through programmes.

The conference provided so much fascinating content and the use of social media, through the #cugh2021Twitter tag, provided an excellent source of information during the conference. I have certainly gained a rich vein to mine for insights and looking forward to attending the next conference.

Dr. Nancy Tamimi