CUGH Conference Highlights Need for More Interdisciplinary Collaboration

CUGHDid you know that amputees in India can now climb trees, thanks to the world-class prosthetics developed by D-Rev, a San Francisco based non-profit? D-Rev works to improve the lives of those living on less than $4 a day by developing affordable and effective products for those in need.

I learned about D-Rev this weekend at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. The Consortium aims to define the discipline of global health, standardize curriculum for global health students, and coordinate projects, faculty, and students among low and high resource universities around the world.

The conference brought together leaders in the global health field – such as Malcolm Potts from the Bixby Center at UC Berkeley, and the Rwandan Minister of Health, Agnes Binagwaho – around diverse issues like the changing global burden of disease and the crisis in the Sahel.

However, the conference’s structure represented one of the public health field’s greatest challenges: There were few, if any, professional or student attendees outside of the global health field. Yet conversations revolved around the need for collaboration and innovation. I was particularly surprised at the absence of people from professions such as law or engineering during the session on innovation in public health.

The session, one of the best from the conference, featured case studies of public health professionals turning creative ideas into public health solutions, most notably from D-Rev and SOIL Haiti. SOIL Haiti uses sanitation issues to build infrastructure, improve agriculture, and provide Haitians jobs by transforming human waste into opportunities. SOIL Haiti could not have come to be without the help of talented engineers, who turned its concept into reality. And D-Rev could not be successful without the product designers producing high-end prosthetics, yet this voice was not featured at the conference.

Public Health is inherently an interdisciplinary field, using tools from fields such as science, math, psychology, and anthropology, among others, to do our work. Yet, if we are to continue to strive to work towards our health and development goals and increase capacity of low-income countries, we must think creatively to work more effectively with colleagues outside of traditional public health roles. Our efforts will find no traction if they are not grounded as holistic, cross-disciplinary interventions. This multi-disciplinary approach is also essential at building local capacity, something the HC3 project cares deeply about.

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