Ruby Singhrao reports from last month’s TEDx San Franicsco conference, dedicated to advances in global health.
On November 10th 2012, the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) hosted a TEDx conference on global health. The conference title “7 billion well,” is in tune with UCSF’s mission for advancing health worldwide. Providing a platform for Bay area academic and industry pioneers in the field of global health, the audience received a broad taste of various initiatives that are being deployed globally. Speakers spent around 10 minutes outlining how their work addressed poverty and health inequalities in the global context. UCSF showcased its own global health leaders including Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Gavin Yamey and Dr. Jamie Sepulveda.
Dr Dean Ornish spoke in the morning session, opening with a talk about how chronic disease is currently the leading cause of death in high income countries. By 2030 it will become the leading cause of death in middle income countries such as India and Brazil, surpassing the current burden of infectious disease. He made the case that through low-tech interventions, such as changing dietary habits, we could prevent advancing chronic disease and in some cases reverse the damage done in patients already suffering from chronic disease. Currently the United States spends around $100 billion on angioplasties/stents and bypass surgeries. He presented evidence that has shown that unless you are in the middle of a heart attack, these procedures have low efficacy, they do not prolong life and they do not prevent heart attacks. As a more sustainable approach he showed us evidence that lifestyle changes could be as or more effective than drugs or surgery, at preventing and treating chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, at a fraction of the cost.
Dr Gavin Yamey presented in the afternoon session, describing his work as lead of the UCSF Global Health Group Evidence to Policy Initiative (E2Pi). Policy, he demonstrated, can be used to make smart incremental changes within health systems; suggesting policy makers ought to receive ‘doses of evidence delivered at the right time’. His group E2Pi at UCSF facilitates the mobilization of evidence entrepreneurs worldwide, to take evidence and turn it into policy that is implemented. Citing the case of a Ugandan doctor who changed policy in her country by initiating micro-nutrient fortification in food products, he demonstrated to the audience that E2Pi had revolutionized the way policy can be delivered.
Bringing a historical perspective to the conference, Dr Jamie Sepulveda reminded us that vaccines have been one of the greatest medical milestones in disease prevention. Starting with Edward Jenner’s early smallpox discovery to the future where he optimistically predicted we will have a vaccine against Dengue, Malaria and even HIV. He warned against complacent attitudes in regards to vaccine coverage. He described how a measles outbreak in 1989 spread south from North America to Mexico, where at the time he was chief epidemiologist at the Mexican Ministry of Health. Reflecting on his own experience with a measles epidemic in the 1980s which killed around 6000 children due to low measles vaccine coverage, he said, “I cannot describe the pain and shame we felt, a vaccine that cost less than ten cents could have saved the lives of those children.” He argued that vaccines along with sanitation were the main contributors of life expectancy in the world. We were reminded that vaccines are simple preventative measure and in many ways the silver bullet to the eradication of infectious disease.
Other global health leaders from the Bay area also presented and all the talks are now available on YouTube.
Ruby Singhrao (@rubysinghrao on twitter) is a graduate student in global health sciences at the University of California San Francisco. She previously worked in Public Health at NHS Camden for five years and simultaneously completed her BSc in Biochemistry at the University of London.