COPH helps bring symposium on diplomacy, global health and national security to USF

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The USF College of Public Health (COPH) recently co-hosted the first inaugural Global Health, Diplomacy and National Security Symposium, held at the Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions on Feb. 28.

About 100 public health professionals, military personnel, academics, students and others attended the symposium, sponsored by WUSF Public Radio and Premier Eye Care.

While the brainchild of COPH founder Sam Bell and Dr. Anthony Masys, COPH associate professor and director of global disaster management, humanitarian assistance and homeland security, the symposium was a collaborative effort between the COPH and the Morsani College of Medicine, USF Health, the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies and the Global Citizens Project.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Mohsen Milani, a political scientist and executive director of the USF Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies, set the stage for the daylong event, which featured commentaries from government leaders, USF faculty and public health experts.

“Global health threats [such as SARS, Ebola and H1N1] have both diplomatic and foreign policy implications,” said Milani. “They can undermine economic growth and threaten the political security of nations, including the United States. Global health diplomacy emerges as a nontraditional soft power that can contribute to the diffusion of conflict and instability.”

USF President Judy Genshaft was next to speak and touched on a recurring theme of the day: developing partnerships.

“Collaboration makes all the difference,” Genshaft emphasized. “Respect for one another makes all the difference. Coming together with great ideas can really help our society.”

One of the featured speakers of the symposium was Dr. Stephen Redd, a rear admiral, assistant surgeon general and a director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stephen Redd, MD, RADM, an assistant surgeon general and the director of the Center for Preparedness and Response for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke on the global health security agenda. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Redd outlined the main factors that drive disease and threats, namely population growth and poverty.

“In 1970, there were three cities with a population over 10 million,” said Redd, “and in 2030, there will be 43 cities. This population growth, combined with poverty and increased travel, means that a disease that occurs in a city in Africa or South Asia can be in the U.S. in a matter of hours.”

While a scary thought, Redd pointed out that there is reason to be optimistic. In addition to more and more drugs and diagnostic tests being developed for diseases like Ebola, the issue of global health and political stability is gaining international attention.

“A lot of work is being undertaken by the private sector and nongovernment entities,” Redd said. “There are many more players now than in years past. The more effectively these countries and groups can work together, the more effective the work can be.”

Redd’s remarks were followed by a panel discussion that looked at diplomacy as a “soft power” that can support national security by addressing global health issues.

Panelists like Caryle Cammisa, of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), stressed the need for collaboration.

“I am mindful of Colin Powell’s statement that when you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail. But when we think more analytically, we can choose from an array of tools,” stated Cammisa. “Through diplomacy, we can create opportunities to discuss, negotiate and plan.”

“You need allies and advocates on the Hill,” added Rachel Karioki, a former senior advisor to the U.S. State Department. “You need people not only sitting on committees that relate to public health, but also on committees that relate to foreign policy.”

The COPH’s Marissa Levine, MD, MPH, participated in a panel discussion on
using diplomacy as a soft power to address global health issues and support national security measures. (Photo by Anna Mayor)

Dr. Marissa Levine, a COPH professor, urged the audience to look at diplomacy from a public health perspective.

“What if diplomacy, at its very root, is a public health intervention?” she asked. “And why wouldn’t it be, if ultimately what we’re talking about is the health and well-being of populations and people? Perhaps that’s the dialogue and debate we need to have to help identify other champions.”

In between sessions, attendees perused student posters. Here, COPH student Patricia Santana stands before her poster, awarded first place. (Photo by Anna Mayor)

The afternoon session featured a panel discussion on innovations and inspirations in global health, the highlight of which was an impassioned presentation given by Dr. Ben Jacob, a COPH global health research professor, who described his work fighting the eye disease onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, in Africa.

Ben Jacob, PhD, explains the use of GIS in the fight against river blindness. (Photo by Anna Mayor)

Jacob detailed his use of global information system (GIS), an emerging technology that uses computer applications to map and analyze geographical data—in this case the habitats of the flies that cause river blindness.

Jacob was able to ascertain that the larva of the flies are located in the trailing vegetation of the rivers, and by employing what he calls a “slash and clear” method of removing the vegetation, the fly population, and thus the disease, can be limited.

“We’re fighting a war here,” he said, “and when you’re fighting a war you need ammunition and weapons and tools. That’s what this technology is, it’s a tool, and one that’s revolutionizing things.”

Dr. Donna Petersen, dean of the COPH and a senior associate vice president of USF Health, capped off the symposium with her closing remarks about the interdependency between global health, economic prosperity and global development.

“If we want national security,” said Petersen, “then we have to address health. And if we want health, we have to think about diplomacy and taking a multisectorial approach to achieving it. Public health,” she concluded, “is a diplomacy tool.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health