2017 APHA Annual Meeting Recap
By Teresa Ekaete Nwachukwu
The APHA Annual Meeting is an annual gathering of the crème de la crème of the public health profession and, according to APHA Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin, it offers practitioners opportunities to build intellectual networks, share new science, concepts, and thoughts. It is a fine occasion to share ideas and build life-changing friendships.
In 2017, the APHA Annual Meeting was held at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), Atlanta from the 4th to the 8th of November. The intersection between climate change and public health was the focus of the conference, with the theme "Creating the Healthiest Nation: Climate Changes Health".
The convention was preceded by an epoch event, the Opening General Session on Sunday, November 5th. More than 12,000 public health enthusiasts, referred to by Dr. Benjamin as our ‘closest friends’ filled the GWCC to capacity. The event, which Dr. Benjamin described as the ‘cheer-leading effort’ for our annual meeting, featured amazing speakers, including a video message from U.S Representative John Lewis whose message to attendees encouraged public health practitioners to continue to be "vigilant and to stay informed".
The key note address was given by the elegant Eriel Deranger, whose message hinged on the need for the scientific community and public health officials to work with indigenous communities to find new ways to synergize indigenous culture and climate stabilization. She said conferences like the APHA Annual Meeting were critical to changing the landscape where imposition of industrialization and global climate change compounded the challenges faced by indigenous peoples all over the world, such as those in her native northern Alberta. Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is the Executive Director of the Indigenous Climate Action https://www.indigenousclimateaction.com/. The opening general session set the tone for the rest of the conference.
‘’Climate Change is here, it is affecting our health right now, but we can make it all different, we can change things’’- Georges Benjamin
Monday, November 6th featured, among other important sessions, a conversation between Gina McCarthy and Georges Benjamin, MD. McCarthy, a former administrator of Environmental Protection Agency Leadership Fellow, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Heatlh said climate change ‘‘is about polar bears, it’s about our kids, it’s about our future and the good thing about the climate change issues is that we have solutions’’.
One of the highlights of the annual event was the Public Health Expo and in 2017, several hundred sponsors and exhibitors showcased their innovative solutions to public health challenges. The Expo featured the introduction of goods and services that ranged from new technologies and educational opportunities, to health and wellness services and beauty products.
Most of the conference was taken up by exciting oral and poster sessions, on issues as diverse as using satellite photographs in predicting outbreaks of disease by NASA, housing, environmental, gender, and health systems strengthening issues. Over 2000 scientific and poster sessions, to satisfy all interest groups, all pointed to the impact climate change had on health and the need for public health practitioners to stand up for justice, especially in the face of dwindling government support. There was something for everyone. The meeting was supported by a mobile phone app that was simple to use and extremely effective in guiding attendees to the right sessions and venues at the right time. With great wi-fi service in most parts of the GWCC, access to all events was just a phone search away.
The International Health Section had our Open House and Membership Meeting on Sunday November 5th where section members met the leadership and were introduced to the workings of several committees. The meeting format included a very popular "speed dating roundtable event" where members joined various tables hosted by committee and working group chairs to learn more about the committees and working groups. 775 members of the IH Section were at the annual meeting, many of whom came from outside the United States. According to the post conference survey, this number represents about 34% of the 2,284 member strong section. An IH Section leadership meeting was held on Monday morning to discuss issues affecting the Section and to set strategic goals for the coming year.
Featuring: Jaron King
By Janine Foggia
Jaron King, an active member of the International Health Student Committee, is currently pursuing a public health degree with a minor in environmental science at Brigham Young University. Jaron, who originally wanted to pursue a career in medicine, decided to change course and pursue a public health degree after a combination of experiences. After working with a family practitioner and seeing patients who were unable to afford care due to their insurance status, he soon realized that medicine was not the field he wanted to go into. Furthermore, Jaron took an epidemiology class and came to enjoy population health. Combining these experiences with his love of politics, Jaron felt that pursuing a career in health policy was what he wanted to do.
Featuring: Mary Anne Mercer
By Alison Griner
Mary Anne Mercer’s career has been filled with adventure. While working as a nurse practitioner in San Francisco, a friend back from a trip to Nepal gushed about the country’s beauty and a few days later Mercer saw, “Nurses wanted in Nepal.” Despite knowing relatively little about Nepal, Mercer quickly learned Nepali and without hesitation headed to rural Nepal for 18 months as a Team Leader for the Tom Dooley Foundation/INTERMED. This decision has shaped the rest of her career.
Mercer lived in the north-central Gorkha district of Nepal, but traveled for weeks at a time to rural areas vaccinating children, delivering babies, treating individuals day and night, and educating communities on public health topics such as diarrhea and worms. Living in and traveling around rural Nepal, learning how Nepalis live, seeing what they are up against, hearing what they believe, and realizing the social and economic factors that they experience were all essential to forming her into the public health practitioner she is today. Viewing a community in this lens has affected her approach to health and attributed to her career success. Her belief is that all international public health professionals aspiring to important and meaningful work need to spend at least a few years in remote areas rather than capital cities in order to increase their understanding of public health practice in the field and their awareness of potential challenges and needs. (As a two-time Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I cannot agree more.)
"We have an opportunity to focus global attention on what should be obvious: every mother, and every child, counts. They count because we value every human life. The evidence is clear that healthy mothers and children are the bedrock of healthy and prosperous communities and nations."
Dr. LEE Jong-wook, former WHO Director-General