Paloma Pineda and Katherine Warren, founding co-directors of the Akili Initative, an online student think tank for global health, report on the recent Consortium of Universities for Global Health.
The immense challenges of global health have increasingly inspired our younger generation to act to create change. As global health challenges grow, students’ optimistic spirit, capacity to innovate and multidisciplinary perspectives will be an invaluable resource to cultivate in the years to come.
Over the past few decades, universities have recognized this value and have made strides towards providing students with the tools they need to make an impact in global health work. Currently, more than 240 North American universities have dedicated global health coursework, and more than a third of those also include research programs. The Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) seeks to build collaboration among these institutions to ensure optimal curricula and research programs.
Universities’ commitment to global health was showcased at the recent 2011 Global Health Conference in Montreal co-sponsored by CUGH, the Canadian Society for International Health, and the Global Health Education Consortium. Attendees traveled in unprecedented numbers from 62 countries and approximately 165 universities. Several sessions highlighted ways in which universities can contribute beyond providing global health curricula. For instance, one workshop described the impressive success of capacity-building partnerships with medical institutions in developing countries.
High-level participants, including Ambassador Eric Goosby and former UN commander Romeo Dallaire, also stressed the vital importance of the engagement and commitment of our generation. In particular, Ambassador Goosby’s mention of the launch of a new US Global Health Service Corps stirred excitement for young health sciences students and professionals in the audience.
Several of the nearly 500 students attending the Conference presented ways in which they have already begun to take the lead on global health. One student told the story of how his biomedical engineering team from Johns Hopkins designed a low-cost antenatal screening kit as a part of a NCIIA competition. Others presented research on the implications of economic models of health insurance.
It is precisely this exuberant energy and passion for global health within universities that inspired the us to develop the Akili Initiative, an online journal that captures and shares stories of global health-related education, research and service through articles, blog posts and editorials, and then leverages social media to bring discussion of these issues to a broader youth audience.
All of this progress toward student leadership in global health is commendable, yet more remains to be done. As Peter Singer noted in his plenary address, despite “huge interest on the part of young people and the need for their skills in global health, clear career paths are lacking.” This lack of clarity is partly due to insufficient discourse, resource sharing and communication among students across geographic and university silos. Though universities are doing a better job at collaborating, there exists a vital need for students themselves to share their experiences in order to learn from and inspire each other.
As students, we must step up to increasingly take a leading role by leveraging the opportunities we are given to make an impact and to teach others. In an era of flatlining funding for global health, focused efforts to facilitate student engagement will be critical to maintaining the last decade’s sea change toward global health.
-Paloma Pineda and Katherine Warren