Global Health Conferences

Health in All Policies: A Review of the 2015 American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting

~Written by Theresa Majeski (Contact: theresa.majeski@gmail.com; Twitter: @theresamajeski)

The 143rd American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting was held in Chicago, IL from October 31 to November 4, 2015. The theme for this year’s annual meeting, “Health in All Policies”, focused on the impact of where someone lives, works, learns and plays on their ability to live a healthy life. Focusing on creating policies to address community issues ensures a long-lasting implementation of community improvements. There were a wide variety of sessions; some directly related to the theme and others which were less clearly aligned. In the following paragraphs, I provide some of my impressions of the meeting and highlight a few sessions I attended which really got me thinking about global health.

On Saturday Oct. 30, I attended the APHA Global Health Learning Institute. This half-day session focused solely on how students and young professionals can break into the global health field. The institute was run by representatives from Chemonics International and the Global Health Fellows Program (GHFP) II within the Public Health Institute. One highlight was the results of a survey, done by GHFP II, of global health employers to determine what they perceive as areas where applicants are lacking in skills. Most (85%) of the employers surveyed felt that academia could do a better job preparing students for the real-world by providing more non-clinical skill building in the areas of program management, strategy and project management, communication with stakeholders, and collaboration and teamwork. Employers perceived gaps in understanding the context and reality of global health work, flexibility and adaptability of applicants, cultural sensitivity, cross-cultural communication, and knowledge of how the key players and systems work in a global health capacity. What I took away from this session was the importance of adjusting one’s resume to demonstrate skills in the areas that global health employers think most applicants are lacking.

On Sunday I attended the Opening Session where the US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy spoke about three elements that are central to our work as public health leaders: information, inspiration, and equality. With these three elements Dr. Murthy believes that we can achieve our public health goals. Actor Ed Begely spoke briefly about the importance of climate change and how if everyone does small feasible things each day it can have a large collective impact. The keynote speaker of the opening session was Dr. Freeman Hrabowski from the University of Maryland – Baltimore County. Dr. Hrabowski spoke animatedly about public health and the importance of education. In the last few minutes of his talk, he stated that we should all watch our thoughts, for our thoughts become our words; watch our words because they become our actions; watch our actions because they become our habits; watch our habits because they become our character, andwatch our character because it becomes our destiny, dreams and values.

I attended many International Health section-sponsored sessions while at APHA. Several presentations really made me think about how we can and must do better in global health. Many groups around the world are making a significant impact in global health including the implementation of a mobile app to help maternal and child health community health workers in India, promoting communities to take greater control of their healthcare service delivery, determining the true prevalence of malaria versus other febrile illnesses which are often mistaken for malaria, and having a greater respect for established traditions in communities that require assistance from global health workers such as in the West African Ebola response. Attending international health sessions as APHA always inspires me to continue to learn about the vast field of global health and to continue to remain aware of all of the great work going on around the world.

That is my challenge to you, do not remain complacent in your job or life; continue to learn and grow, personally and professionally, as the field of global health continues to learn and grow.