Global Health Symposium celebrates interdisciplinary approaches to climate change and health

On Tuesday, April 19, the Global Health Institute (GHI) partnered with the Office of Global Health to host the 2022 Global Health Symposium, “Making Connections: Health, Climate & Equity.”

The event celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the GHI. Since its inception, it has introduced an undergraduate major in global health and undergraduate, graduate, and professional certificates in global health. It has also disbursed more than $2 million in grants. In education and research, speakers reiterated, GHI works toward interdisciplinary, international efforts at bettering the health of people, species, and the planet.

“We believe that the health of humans and the planet are interconnected, and we work within and across disciplines to advance health today and ensure well-being for the future—for all of us, equitably,” said James Conway, the introductory speaker and Associate Director for Health Sciences at UW–Madison.

GHI’s founding director, Jonathan Patz, described how understanding the interconnectedness of health isn’t just a theory; it is also an approach.

“I like to call this a whole-of-campus approach to global health: to have a better chance at solving the root causes of ill health rather than merely the symptoms arising from underlying problems,” said Patz, who was the lead author on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the organization that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. “Too many of our health interventions are narrowly focused, and as we try to solve one problem, we inadvertently create two or three unintended consequences.”

In prerecorded remarks played at the start of the evening, Provost Karl Scholz emphasized how the university has not only popularized the idea of global health but encouraged its interdisciplinary methods in scholarship.

“GHI was also one of the first organizations in the nation to focus on the root determinants of health from across multiple sectors,” Scholz said. “GHI shows again and again how interdisciplinary collaboration changes the conversation and can lead to multifaceted solutions for people, animals, and the planet.”

Conway also discussed how “UW has become a leader both nationally and internationally” by moving global health from “an area of curiosity for many people into something that now represents core scholarly activity.”

The symposium’s keynote speaker, Jalonne White-Newsome, delivered a motivational speech about “advancing climate justice in the U.S. and Beyond.” White-Newsome is the founder and CEO of Empowering a Green Environment and Economy, a consulting group that offers clients “intersectional approaches” to “climate change, public health, environmental injustice, and advancing racial equity.” She spoke of how caring for her grandparents in Detroit taught her “that climate change impacted different people in different ways”—especially “low-income communities and communities of color”—and inspired her “to get to the root causes.”

“I want to challenge you in this research advocacy teaching community,” she said. “We need to begin to figure out how we use our research and the partnerships … and your advocacy to not just validate the story [of climate change] but work to change the story.”

The symposium also featured 19 panel presentations about global health, as well as a panel discussion on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which, according to GHI Associate Director Lori DiPrete Brown, “describe the world as we might like it to be … how the global community can foster well-being by eliminating poverty and hunger, providing education and healthcare, and fostering human thriving while … caring for the earth and future generations.”

By: Marek Makowski