symposium marks 60th anniversary of Global Health and Population | News

April 5, 2023 – The Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health celebrated its 60e anniversary with a symposium focusing on global health security. The March 28 event, held at the Kresge Cafeteria, included panel discussions on health misinformation and climate change, followed by a reception at which student research posters were presented. exhibited and prizes were awarded.

Members of the public look at a student poster

In her opening remarks, President Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, shared highlights of the Department’s history and achievements. Established in 1962 as the Department of Demography and Human Ecology, GHP was the first population science department in a school of public health to focus on global health from the beginning. Throughout its history, members of the Department have helped shape the field of global health and launched major contributions in areas such as health system reform, maternal and child health, and humanitarian response. Learn more about the history of the Department.

Dean Michelle Williams

While there have been many achievements in improving global health security over the past decades, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that much more needs to be done, said Dean Michelle Williams. Calling herself a proud alumnus and faculty member of the Department, Williams said GHP is well placed to continue this work with its partners around the world.

She noted that traditional defenses and protections are no longer sufficient to keep people safe given that, according to CDC estimates, it is now possible for a pathogen to spread from a remote village to major cities around the world in less than 36 hours. The growing challenges posed by climate change further add to the need to strengthen global health security, she said.

Marcelo Medeiros

Planning for global security threats requires anticipating the future, said Marcelo Medeiros, visiting professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, in his keynote address. But he noted that it would be arrogant to think that the future will follow our plans. Therefore, he said, public health policies must be resilient and adaptable to realities. Its current list of priorities includes directing more people to sustainable plant-based diets, addressing health misinformation, and adopting equitable “pro-poor” policies that address the needs of two-thirds of the world’s population who live on $10 a day or less.

The first panel continued the discussion on health misinformation. As demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, public health authorities must be proactive in releasing information that addresses people’s concerns in a format that is easy to find, understand, accessible and shareable, panelists said. In the absence of reliable information from trusted sources, people will seek their own answers and become potentially vulnerable to misinformation.

Kevin Croke

Although it can be difficult to change people’s minds once they’ve been confronted with misinformation, “prebunking” – providing people with information in advance that can prevent them from falling into misinformation – may be more effective. For example, Kevin Croke, Assistant Professor of Global Health, and colleagues found that South African study participants who regularly received a fact-checking podcast on WhatsApp became more skeptical of health misinformation than they were meeting.

Speakers on the climate change panel discussed how to more comprehensively factor health outcomes into the social cost of carbon – a metric used by policymakers to weigh the cost of damage caused by each additional tonne of emissions of carbon, or the benefit of any action taken to reduce one tonne of carbon emissions. More studies are needed on climate-sensitive health outcomes, the panelists said. These include both direct effects such as mortality caused by air pollution and indirect effects such as reduced nutritional quality of plants and damage to mental health.

Kari Nadeau

It’s important to be able to explain the mechanisms by which climate change affects health, said Kari Nadeau, chair of the Department of Environmental Health and John Rock Professor of Climate and Population Studies. She noted that even after it became clear that tobacco smoke was harmful to the human body, more research was needed to show exactly why. “So you could actually change the policy,” she said. “It was undeniable that tobacco smoke causes cancer after understanding the mechanisms.”

Heat is one area where the mechanisms become clear, she said. “Heat actually induces changes in our immune system, induces the breakdown of cells in our body,” she said. This can lead to irreversible inflammatory changes, which have been observed in the blood of agricultural workers and others with chronic exposure to high heat.

Nadeau and other panelists highlighted the importance of considering inequity to measure who is most likely to be harmed by climate change and who is able to access the benefits of mitigation and recovery measures. ‘adaptation.

Amy Roder

Photos: Ben Gebo

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