Commissioner Rahul Gupta on International Health Conference Impact
Last week, a collaborative project between West Virginia State University, the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and the World Health Organization brought thousands of scholars, researchers, professionals and students to Dubai for a conference titled “Solutions for Better Life”. Kara Lofton sat down with West Virginia Commissioner of Public Health Rahul Gupta, who was a keynote speaker at the conference, to talk about the experience.
GUPTA: There are a lot of focus now on social determinants of health. The fact that it is no longer just the medical care model, but it is the environment in which people live, learn, play, pray, grow up. Those factors all make an impact from both poverty and education to a number of social factors, behavioral factors that impact health.
LOFTON: Is it important to have a voice from West Virginia at an international health conference like this and if so, why, why is it particularly important from here?
GUPTA: Well it is very, very important because it tells people that West Virginia is playing a role in international health and international solutions for a better life. We are bringing our experts to talk about it. One of the presenters, somebody from WV State University, presented the similarities, the remarkable similarities across countries, which is very similar to WV as well, as the challenge of changing behavior, the lifestyles. At the end of the day there are a lot more similarities than differences.
LOFTON: Do you think, this is something I have wondered for a while since moving to West Virginia, are some of the health concerns we have here, are they more akin to something that might be found in a third world country than they would be in wealthier parts of the United States? Does that put us in a better position to understand what’s going on in a world stage?
GUPTA: So one of the things we discussed was the importance of culture to health and no matter where you live and level of poverty you live in I think it’s very important to understand the local culture. There’s a very special emphasis on that during the conference. I think it does help West Virginians to understand much better cultures across the globe because we have our own culture...
...So we saw and we really observed that we were neither talking down or talking at, but it was a really healthy mixture of understanding the cultures of various presenters across the globe. We had presenters from Egypt, from Jordan from Canada and obviously the regional director of the World Health Organization presented as well so we had a number of internationals presenters and we were able to once again cross-fertilize the ideas and cultures but at the same time recognize that cultural understanding and respect of those cultures is critical to making any successful future steps in changing the health behaviors and ultimately changing causes of death.
Gupta said he was asked to be a judge for a number of competitions in which faculty across the globe presented ideas for global health solutions. One of his favorites was a way of social networking that connected people interested a physical activity, for instance, a pick-up soccer game, with others in their community interested in the same activity.
GUPTA: I think some of the most exciting ideas, in addition to innovation in information technology and app development, is a way to communicate across the globe…
...I think the biggest change I saw was that this conference brought together a number of researchers from fields that were often not limited to health...It is was a very nice hybrid of information technology, health, as well as understanding the future of what it’s going to take us to continue to have healthy environment with a focus on climate change and a number of other contemporary factors.
LOFTON: Is there any takeaway that we should being a population here or listeners hearing you talk about this international conference.
GUPTA: Sure, I think the most important takeaway is that we aren’t alone. We are a community that we are able to offer something in this conference from our researchers, our presenters in the exchange of ideas. The other is of course that we expressed and so did they that we’d like to continue this relationship going forward so we might be organizing such a conference here in West Virginia in the near future to be able to bring all those leaders across the world to West Virginia to have such a conference.
For more information about the Solutions for a Better Life Conference visit http://www.sharjah.ac.ae/en/Media/Conferences/SFBL/Pages/default.aspx
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation.