Global Forum of Public Health School Deans Sheds Light on Health in a Changing World

On April 21st, the Global Forum of Public Health School Deans, with the theme “Health in a Changing World, Innovation and Collaboration: the Next Generation” was held online.

The forum was hosted by Dr. Margaret Chan, the founding Dean of the Vanke School of Public Health (“VSPH”). Other participants in the forum included Professor Qiu Yong, President of Tsinghua University; Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust; Professor Harvey Fineberg, President of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation; Professor Nancy Ip, Vice President of Research and Development in The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Professor Ilona Kickbusch, Founding Director and Chair of the Global Health Centre; Professor Ellen J. MacKenzie, Dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Professor Teo Yik Ying, Dean of the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health. James Chau, Special Advisor to Dean Margaret Chan and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for SDGs and Health, also joined the forum as the moderator.

The forum started with a pre-recorded welcome remark by Professor Qiu Yong. He expressed his great appreciation to all the guest speakers and participants, and also affirmed the progress and rapid development that VSPH has achieved in the past year. He mentioned that VSPH was established to “cultivate professional, international, interdisciplinary and high-level public health leaders for the interests of humanity”, it will continue to “identify pathways to a healthier, more equitable and more sustainable future” with the support of experts and scholars in public health all over the world.

In the panel discussion session, seven experts shared their visions on the challenges and opportunities of global public health, public health and humanity, as well as new requirements for future public health leaders, especially in the post-pandemic era.

Public Health in a Changing World

According to Dr. Chan, our world is going through a very difficult period in human history due to COVID-19. Thus, people from various sectors need to “think and rethink what kind of world we want to live in the post-pandemic era and start working on what measures need to take place".

Professor Jeremy Farrar responded to Chan’s view and said the 21st century will present some real challenges in public health, energy, and water, among other critical challenges, but “they can be solved if we act together, if we act across continents, and between countries”, and we should realize “what the drivers of the issues are, rather than just treating the symptoms".

Professor Harvey Fineberg said “in addition to thinking, rethinking and acting, public health brings a proactive perspective of preventing and looking ahead with foresight to anticipate future problems as well as the ones we confront today. Those problems are so evident, dominant and daunting that we need to mobilize as a world to be able to overcome them".

Professor Nancy Ip also pointed out that “though the pandemic has caused unprecedented changes, it also showed itself to be a driving force of innovation”. “We are witnessing how global efforts in the face of devastating disease is leading to new possibilities and advances in science and medicine. I do feel optimistic about the future”, she said.

Health and Humanity

Dr. Chan, by sharing a story of her helping a boy who was discriminated against for his disease of HIV/AIDS when he returned to school, explained her understanding of “humanity”. She mentioned that HIV/AIDS was a trailblazer. It demonstrated, through collective efforts, how a disease which was like a sentence of death to people could be changed to a non-communicable disease. She said “we need to think how to apply the insights of tackling HIV/AIDS to deal with the looming challenges”. She promised that “VSPH is committed to train new generations and leaders as public health leaders so as to be able to serve humanity, whether it is in HIV, COVID-19 or climate change".

Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar echoed Chan’s point and argued that we can think about humanity at a global level or in the context of regional trends, but it comes down to individuals, their families, communities, and societies in the end, which should be kept as the center of our concerns.  

Professor Teo Yik Ying also mentioned “a well-organized school of public health, by having its focus on public health practice together with the commitment to make an impact on public policies and national programs on health, can advise governments, NGOs and private sectors nationally and internationally, in order to achieve the vision of a more sustainable, fairer and more comfortable world".

Professor Teo Yik Ying added “the best global public health policies and programs will be the ones that can be implemented successfully and effectively with the purpose of combining people and society”.  

Public Health Diplomacy

The evolving world requires people working in public health not only to be experts in their academic field, but also to be experts in crisis management and to be capable of interacting with social media and understanding new policies.

Professor Ilona Kickbusch stated that people in public health need to have a better understanding of global public health, since nobody is safe until everyone is safe. “We must see global public health diplomacy as a form of public health practice”, she said, adding that “it is the responsibility of people in public health to apply global public health diplomacy to strengthen global solidarity, so as to achieve a consensus on globally consistent standards and norms”. Global public health can be achieved only if students in public health have a broader mind to understand well the context of different systems and dependencies.

Professor Ellen J. MacKenzie also observed that “skills of managing public health crisis and communication are so critical”. “We did not do a good job in communicating the value of public health and translating the research we do into terms that the public and the decision makers can use and act upon. We really need to teach our students the practical skills much better than ever before”, she stated.

In the final session, experts communicated with two student representatives on topics of gender equality, the driving force of big data and other technological advances, as well as suggestions for future talent training in public health.

This forum convened top scholars from leading Public Health Schools around the world to promote mutual understanding and further support collaboration on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Tsinghua Vanke School of Public Health, aligned with the celebration of the 110th birthday of Tsinghua University.

The forum was broadcast live on various social media channels in both Chinese and English.

(By LI Tian from Tsinghua Vanke School of Public Health)

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