Distinguished global panel captivates students, faculty, staff and community guests

| Monday Letter, Our Conferences

The USF College of Public Health hosted a global panel discussion on Jan. 27 as part of a weeklong international endeavor associated with the College’s 30th anniversary celebration. Four public health leaders came to COPH from various parts of the world for the event, the highlight of which was the panel discussion, Healthy populations in the 21st century: international trends, in the Sam Bell III Auditorium.

Dr. Donna Petersen, COPH dean, delivered the opening remarks and extended a welcome to the esteemed guests.


Dr. Donna Petersen (left), College of Public Health dean, extended the college’s welcome to panelists and guests. To her right in photo are Emmanuel Ofumbi of Uganda, Dr. Boo Kwa of COPH and Dr. Nestor Sosa of Panama.

“When we look back over our 30 years,” Petersen said, “one of the things we are proudest of is our unflagging attempts to continue to reach across the globe, to make friends and create partnerships, to provide our students opportunities to learn and to grow professionally in communities around the globe, and to make sure our students understand that public health is global health.

“Public health is also community health, and we can’t be successful if we don’t engage the communities in that global spirit. We have placed students in many, many countries over the years all across the world, but in recent years, we have been very grateful to four particular partners. We are delighted to welcome them here today.”

Those four international guests were Emmanuel Ofumbi, executive director of the Papoli Community Development Foundation, Uganda; Dr. Fernando Ortega, dean of the School of Public Health at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador; Dr. Safii Razitasham, head of the community and public health unit at UNIMAS in Malaysia; and Dr. Nestor Sosa, director of the Gorgas Memorial Institute in Panama.

After setting the tone, Petersen turned the program over to its moderator and chief organizer, Dr. Boo Kwa, professor in the Department of Global Health and associate dean, Office of International Programs.

Kwa thanked the dean and acknowledged her “enthusiasm, energy and continuing support” for making the program possible. After recognizing the college’s “benefactors and champions,” former state Rep. Sam Bell III and his wife, former USF president and former state education commissioner Betty Castor, Kwa introduced the panel and opened the discussion by asking each panel member a question specifically related to a major public health trend in his or her country.


Chatting before the panel presentation, from left: Sosa, Kwa and Betty Castor, former Florida education commissioner and former USF president.

Ofumbi discussed Uganda’s war against malaria and the mosquitoes that carry it, and the effect of the disease disabling family wage earners in a poor country.

Sosa noted Panama’s position between North and South America and its resultant heavy international traffic via airlines, as well as cruise ships and international freight passing through the Panama Canal, all posing the threat of diseases introduced by people briefly passing through.

Ortega talked about the recent crash in oil prices threatening funding for public health education and planned projects such as installing safe drinking water systems for rural populations in the Andes. Ecuador is a major producer of oil, a major factor in its national economy.

Razitasham discussed Malaysia’s reduction of infectious diseases at the same time it is seeing an increase in the incidence of chronic diseases.


Discussing the state of the public health world, from left: Ofumbi, Sosa, Kwa, Dr. Fernando Ortega of Ecuador, and Dr. Safii Razitasham of Malaysia.

After a more general discussion about the Ebola outbreak and each panelist’s country’s response to it, the floor was opened to questions from the audience. A lively reception followed in the COPH lobby before the rest of the afternoon was dedicated to breakout sessions anchored by the individual panelists.

Rep. Bell was all smiles at the reception and expressed his appreciation for the program and what it meant in the bigger picture.

“This was just a wonderful example of what the College of Public Health is all about,” he said. “We had representatives from Malaysia, from Ecuador, from Panama and from Uganda talking about public health, and in all of those cases, students from here have gone to these countries through our programs. So, this truly is the essence of the College of Public Health. It’s just wonderful, and we’re just so proud of it.”

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Some of the many distinguished guests at the global symposium and panel discussion Healthy Populations in the 21st Century: International Trends.

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Graduate student Ryan Ortega (left in photo) and fellow COPH student researchers presented one of several posters in the lobby. Second from right is Ortega’s advisor, Dr. Robert Novak.

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Before and after the panel presentation, guests and participants visited the numerous displays set up in the COPH lobby. Here, Ortega says hello to representatives of the USF Peace Corps program.

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Story by David Brothers, College of Public Health.  Photos courtesy of Natalie D. Preston and Marissa Williams.