"...neglected diseases are everybody's business..."
UAEM Western members smile for a picture following an panel session (left to right): Gaelle Groux (alumni), Aly Balbaa and Cheyanne Reed.
On October 2nd, 2015, myself and a few other members from UAEM Western, attended the Reinvent Conference on Neglected Diseases at the University of Toronto. Andrew Welsey, an elder-in-residence for First Nations House, provided opening remarks that began with a poignant explanation of his culture’s “Legend of Disease” and how sickness came into existence. This set the tone for the rest of the conference as he emphasized the importance of health as well as neglect, as social constructs.
The purpose of the interdisciplinary academic conference was rooted in bringing together researchers, stakeholders, policy makers as well as students to discuss and question the social, political and economic structures that perpetuate neglect, particularly in terms of accessibility and affordability of healthcare. The concept of REINVENT was reflected in the desire for students to formulate innovative ventures and strive to advance research agendas to prioritize healthcare as a basic human right.
During speaker panel sessions, panelists urged us to take a critical approach to thinking about neglected diseases and to explore the systems, structures and other factors that contribute to contemporary as well as past global health issues. They discussed the influence of philanthrocapitalism, neoliberalism and post-colonialism on the proliferation of social inequalities. Ultimately, aiming for an integrated approach that takes into account the standards of living and other dimensions that contribute to disease are crucial to consider as an advocate for access to medicines and medical technologies.
Retrospectively, after inquiring for other members to share their conference experience, it seems we have come to unanimous agreement that it was an amazing opportunity. It was gratifying to hear words of wisdom from these expert advocates as they encourage us to continue to understand neglected diseases and take action individually or through organizations like UAEM. Fellow UAEM member Aly Balbaa explained, “I really enjoyed the conference and found it very informative. I especially liked the breakoff session with Mr. Brian Simpson, in which we discussed effective strategies for raising awareness regarding neglected diseases." Like Aly, this conference left me more curious about how to bring neglect into public discourse and to convey the undeniable – that “neglected diseases are everybody’s business”.
Written By: Cheyanne Reed Cheyanne is a third year undergraduate student at Western University. She is currently the Director of Outreach and Residence Representatives for UAEM Western.