Global health: Expanding our focus

October 3/2014

By Elaine Smith

A health epidemic is speeding its way towards the University of Toronto, and organizers of the upcoming Global Health Equity and Innovation Summit are convinced that it is contagious.

The Dalla Lana School of Public Health is convening “Creating a Pandemic of Health” from November 3 to 5, 2014, as a way of shifting the emphasis in health care away from the traditional focus on disease and towards a concentration on health.

It may simply sound like semantics, says Rani Kotha, Senior Strategist in Global Health and Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs, but the idea of starting a pandemic of health is actually provocative.

“At the core of this idea is the belief that health is about more than the absence of disease,” Kotha said. “It’s thinking about health from a holistic perspective. Public health should really be about being able to self-manage, adapt and thrive.”

The Summit will focus on what organizers call the sweet spot: the intersection between health, equity and innovation.

Alejandro (Alex) Jadad, a Professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the Faculty of Medicine is a major proponent of social contagion and says that any effort to create a health pandemic must be equitable.

“We need to look at how we can create and spread health in such a way that every person in every community in the world has the same opportunity to achieve a healthy life until the last breath,” Jadad said. “We can and must try to achieve this. To succeed, we’ll need innovative methods, indicators, policies and effective communication.”

“We want to create an enthusiastic, energetic, irresistible movement for positive change,” Jadad continued, who is also Canada Research Chair in eHealth Innovation, and founder of the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation at the University Health Network.

Ross Upshur, the Canada Research Chair in Clinical Global Health, believes the University of Toronto community can learn useful lessons about managing health from its partners nationally and worldwide.

“We have strong university connections with Ethiopia, China and Brazil, and it’s worth doing a cross-comparison between the four systems to see where the best integration of public health, disease prevention and clinical services occurs,” Upshur said, also the School’s Clinical Public Health Division Head.

The School is the ideal host for the Summit because it is home to the Institute for Global Health Equity and Innovation. The Institute is seeking to focus its missions in order to break new ground in public health research and advocacy, rather than duplicate what already exists elsewhere. The Summit should generate new ideas and provide new direction.

Professor Abdallah Daar, Chair of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health’s undergraduate initiative in global and public health, says the Summit is simply the starting point for a long-term program that fosters the spread of the health epidemic.

“We’ll come out of this with great ideas, innovations that people haven’t yet addressed seriously, global partners, curriculum materials and research questions,” he said. “The attendees will be inoculated with these ideas and take them to their own centres and universities, and we’ll build a global community of people who think alike.”