UW students organize Global Health Conference

April 27 marks the start of the ninth-annual Western Regional International Health Conference (WRIHC), a UW student-organized event that focuses on issues pertaining to global health.

“Global health is such a broad discipline that we have a wide range of interdisciplinary students,” Colleen Fulp said. As the coordinator of the WRIHC and a graduate student pursuing a master’s in African studies at the Jackson School of International Studies, she works closely with a student committee to organize every aspect of the conference.

“We have students from the school of social work, global health minors, engineers, chemists … essentially, the range of students involved is what is necessary to be able to focus on all the issues that global health encompasses,” Fulp said.

With the HUB under construction, the events are spread across Kane, Mary Gates, and Johnson Halls. Breakfasts are served along with other refreshments and amenities for conference attendees, who will choose between a wide array of lectures on diverse topics.

“The student committee, which is around 30 students this year from virtually every department at UW, chose the central theme of this conference as ‘At a Crossroads: Choosing Hidden Paths in Global Health,’” Fulp said, “We thought that the same issues are brought up a lot at health conferences, and so we wanted to emphasize those rarely seen.”

That same committee produces a list of candidates for speakers and, after several meetings, whittles down the list in order to find candidates with the most suitable background and experience.

“They also work with a small faculty advisory group,” said Daren Wade, director of the Global Health Resource Center. “The primary goal is to bring a variety of professionals together so that they can inform and connect students.”

Wade also highlighted how the conference attracts students from the entire West Coast; he said the attendees include students from Oregon, Arizona, and California, in addition to the UW. The organizers originally aimed for 600 attendees but are already past their target and expect approximately 700.

The conference’s attendance and prestige have only grown since the first conference in November 2002 at the UW, with Dr. William Foege, fellow of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the first keynote speaker. Since then, keynote speakers have included Dr. Jim Yong Kim, who was recently chosen as the president of the World Bank, and Jeffrey Sachs, a noted economist.

Kavita Ramdas is the keynote speaker at this conference.

“She underlines the theme of the conference quite well, as she works on a lot of the issues that aren’t addressed as often at health conferences as others,” Fulp said. “Generally, she emphasizes local organization and representation of marginalized communities.”

Ramdas is not only the current executive director of the Program on Social Entrepreneurship at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford but also served as president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women from 1996 to 2010, more than doubling the amount of aid available for women’s human rights during her stay.

“She has a deep breadth of experience with the lesser-known issues the conference is dealing with,” Wade said. “Her talk treads on inequality, social justice, and health, topics that are highly correlated yet not always dwelt upon.”

Ramdas and other prestigious speakers, including UW faculty such as Jurgen Unutzer, Judith Wasserheit, Benita Beamon, and Deepa Rao, will present panels on topics ranging from global health diplomacy to global health and the environment. Eighteen breakout sessions will open discussion, spanning funding to clinical issues.

“It’s the coordination between graduate and undergraduate, department by department, that really made the conference possible,” Fulp said. “The logistics are challenging; allocating funding and utilizing the right sponsors in the right places.”

The conference switches locations along the West Coast, moving from Simon Fraser University and University of British Columbia to the University of Arizona. The regional sponsorship of more than two dozen universities and colleges also makes the task easier.

“We get a certain amount of funding from the Department of Global Health,” Wade said. “From there, we allocate the budget and then determine the entrance fee.”

Attending the conference costs $50 for students and will run until April 21.

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