The eighth annual International Global Health Conference was held May 22-25 at Modesto A. Maidique Campus.
It provided an opportunity, in English and Spanish, for the presentation, analysis and discussion of risk assessment and scientific progress in relation to global health issues and emerging diseases. This year’s conference focused on critical topics such as immunizations, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, vector-borne diseases, epidemics and pandemics, disaster preparedness, environmental health and the U.S. opioid crisis.
Hosted by the Global Health Consortium (GHC) at FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, the conference developed relationships across borders through powerful global alliances.
Dr. Carlos Espinal, a renowned epidemiologist at Stempel College, directs the GHC. His program serves as an accelerator for multidisciplinary initiatives tackling challenges in public health with cooperation from major organizations including the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Carlos Slim Foundation—all of which were represented at the conference.
“The conference positioned the GHC and Stempel College as leaders in global health through an interactive agenda with key players in public health. The conclusions and recommendations set forth by the conference’s experts will help to develop the research agenda for the next few years,” said Espinal.
Building alliances in global health
The conference titled, “Building Alliances in Global Health,” welcomed 130 relevant experts from 27 countries, four international scientific associations such as the International Atherosclerosis Society, Latin American Pediatric Infectious Diseases Congress, Pan American Association of Infectious Diseases and the Latin American Pediatric Association, as well as distinguished associations, universities and institutions. All participants took part in workshops on the myriad social, health and economic problems facing the world.
Tomás R. Guilarte, dean of Stempel College, presented at the conference, alongside keynote speakers Dr. Bruce Lanphear (Simon Fraser University), Dr. Camillo Ricordi (University of Miami) and Dr. Enrique Vega (PAHO).
“The conference was a resounding success,” said Guilarte. “The topics presented were timely and the discussions provided insights to possible solutions. Plus, it was consistent with our vision to expand Stempel College’s collaborations and interactions with colleagues in South America and the Caribbean.”
Addressing critical issues
Four workshops served as the focal point of the conference: lead and mercury impact on environment and human health; familial hypercholesterolemia as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases; and, arbovirus control and advances in immunization in the Americas.
Experts from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Peru and the U.S. teamed up during the “Lead and Mercury Impact on Environment and Human Health” workshop to review the impact of metals on human health in Latin American and Caribbean nations. Many children in these countries are exposed to mercury poisoning due to the contamination caused by unregulated gold mining and improper waste disposal. The experts said the current surveillance systems are not equipped to handle these chronic conditions, and new governmental policies are an urgent need to prevent more poisoning.
Guilarte explored this subject matter more during his lecture titled, “Childhood lead intoxication and cognitive deficits: from despair to hope.” He demonstrated the correlation between neuroscience research and the need for a public health intervention that could potentially reverse brain damage caused by lead poisoning in children.
Lanphear, professor of Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University in Canada, also gave a presentation about the consequences associated with low and presumably safe levels of lead, as well as how toxicants and pollutants influence mortality rates.
The “Public Policy and Health Interventions: Hypercholesterolemia and diabetes/cardiovascular risk” workshop featured more than two dozen experts in discussion about regional and local health policy interventions. Because the prevalence rate of cardiovascular diseases is 1/250-500 globally, the experts said it was imperative to increase access to early interventions. The GHC and its key partners are currently working toward a policy and call-to-action proposal to reduce premature deaths in at-risk populations.
Dr. Ricordi, director of the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami, described the role of inflammation in diabetes and chronic degenerative disease conditions in “Advances in diabetes care and prevention.” He confirmed the success of the Mediterranean diet in promoting health and longevity, as well as the use of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid to reduce cellular inflammation caused by diabetes, neurological diseases and rheumatoid arthritis.
PAHO’s Dr. Vega addressed the impact of demographic and epidemiological transition on health and well-being in his lecture, “Health in the Life Course.” He detailed methods for reducing chronic diseases and disabilities along with creating capacities to optimize health.
During “Advances on Immunization in the Americas,” the PAHO immunization team demonstrated improvements in maternal immunization, vaccination coverage areas and new vaccines in the national immunization calendars. The workshop also exposed the health situation in Venezuela and the outbreaks of diphtheria and measles, which have recently expanded to neighboring countries.
Dr. Jessy Dévieux, a professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at Stempel College, chaired PAHO’s “Malaria Champions of the Americas” session, which was an advocacy initiative to promote malaria interventions in at-risk regions. Within the session, experts from Brazil, Dominican Republic and Haiti shared their malaria-control strategies that rely on high community engagement and political commitment.
Additionally, the conference provided a platform for international researchers to propose innovative scientific solutions and novel approaches to their work in an open, academic environment.