10 Nov JLCF 2023 Symposium ‘Predicting the Futures of Global Health’ A Resounding Success!
Last 31 October 2023, the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development (AIGHD) and the Joep Lange Institute (JLI) hosted the 4th annual Joep Lange Chair and Fellows Symposium. Each year, the scientific organizing committee selects a relevant and engaging theme that encompasses various intersections of global health and development, with this year’s theme being ‘Predicting Futures of Global Health’. If you missed the symposium, you can find the online recording here: bit.ly/JLCF2023-LIVE. You can also find a summary of the talks below.
The symposium featured speakers from distinctly varied backgrounds, disciplines, and approaches, and they provided an extensive overview of the challenges surrounding the field of Global Health in the foreseeable future. AIGHD Director for Science Prof. Constance Schultsz opened the symposium with a welcoming but concise speech about the background of our theme. She then introduced our host and moderator, Dr. Roel Coutinho, who excitedly took up his mantle on stage.
Next up are our speakers whose backgrounds and topics are summarized below:
· Professor Sharifah Sekalala, a Global Health Law expert at the University of Warwick, is currently leading a Wellcome-funded research project on health apps in Sub-Saharan Africa. Her research explores the intersections of international law, public policy, and global health, with a specific focus on human rights frameworks in addressing global health inequalities. In the symposium, she presented on “Digital Public Health Surveillance and Innovation: A Human Rights Analysis.” The discussion covered issues such as legality, data ownership, and protections for minorities in the context of public health surveillance. COVID-19 was highlighted as a testing ground for new health data collection methods, raising concerns about public scrutiny outside of the pandemic. Sekalala emphasized the challenges of health data ownership, balancing individual ownership with its public health significance. She also stressed the importance of building trust between communities and entities involved in health data collection, emphasizing the need to prioritize the public good over private profit.
· Professor Christophe Fraser, an expert in epidemic interventions, discussed the decline of HIV in Southern Africa. He emphasized the positive impact of antiretroviral coverage, noting that certain countries achieved UNAIDS’ goals ahead of the 2030 target. Despite progress, demographic gaps persist, with variations among men, women, and children in high-performing nations. Using phylogenetics, Fraser highlighted the importance of tracking the origins of HIV transmission to enable targeted campaigns for specific communities. He pointed out that in the PANGEA study, most transmissions occur in men above 25, with less clustering in the studied African cohort compared to European countries like the Netherlands and the UK. Fraser concluded by addressing the changing funding landscape, expressing concern about the diminishing priority of HIV/AIDS for agencies. He urged continued commitment, emphasizing that acknowledging success doesn’t mean the end of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and called for a renewed focus from UNAIDS and other international organizations.
· Simon de Jong, a PhD student at the Amsterdam University Medical Center, studies the epidemiology and evolution of respiratory viruses, particularly influenza. He utilizes genomic sequencing to understand transmission patterns at various scales, from local person-to-person chains to global mobility-driven dynamics. Committed to positive public health outcomes, de Jong aims to harness genomic sequencing’s untapped potential for effective and equitable public health strategies. At the symposium, he discussed “Equity and efficiency in global respiratory virus genomic surveillance.” De Jong’s research proposes establishing a global minimum for testing capacity, arguing that increasing testing in countries lacking resources reduces the time between the emergence and discovery of new virus strains, making global equity more efficient than the current country-dependent system. He concludes that prioritizing a global minimum testing capacity should be a post-pandemic imperative.
· Dr. Lia van Wesenbeeck, Director of the Amsterdam Centre for World Food Studies and Associate Professor of Development Economics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, is an expert in food economics with a focus on general equilibrium theory. Her extensive experience includes research projects in Burkina Faso and Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as ongoing coordination of an NWO/CCAFS study on climate-smart agriculture in Kenya. At the symposium, Dr. van Wesenbeeck discussed “Exploring nutritional deficits in the Nyando Basin, Kenya: optimization modelling for policy recommendations.” She highlighted the importance of addressing short-term nutritional deficiencies critical to child growth and development, emphasizing the influence of knowledge gaps over income in achieving year-round nutrition. Using financial diaries, her research team identified key variables influencing nutritional outcomes. Dr. van Wesenbeeck concluded with policy recommendations, advocating for community knowledge modules and improved market connections to enhance food availability in the region.
The symposium was moderated by the world-renowned physician and first director of the Center for Infectious Disease Control in the Netherlands, Dr. Roel Coutinho. After giving each speaker the opportunity to share their perspective, Dr. Coutinho moderated a panel discussion amongst the speakers, where members of the audience were able to ask questions and raise concerns. Topics of discussion included our approach to consent in data collection, HIV/AIDS in European settings, and the effects of artificial intelligence tools on the field of global health and research. Professor Constance Schultsz gave the closing remarks for the symposium thanking our guests, speakers, and the organizing team. Finally, as a show of gratitude, Prof. Schultsz gifted our speakers with copies of a medical graphic novel titled ‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’ by Roz Chast.
The 2023 Joep Lange Symposium was a success with over 210 people registered to attend in person, and 156 people who followed the online livestream. The recording of the livestream can be found here: bit.ly/JLCF2023-LIVE.