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International conference to launch BU’s Global Health Initiative

World-renowned experts will attend summit on long-range issues

From around the University, the country, and the world, internationally respected leaders and practitioners in the areas of public health, health science, health policy, the social sciences, and the arts will gather at Boston University November 16 to 19 to consider how key global public health issues will evolve over the next 50 years.

The conference, Global Health: A Bridge to the Future, is the inaugural event of BU’s Global Health Initiative (GHI), a University-wide effort aimed at improving the health and well-being of populations throughout the world and educating a new generation of global citizens. It is dedicated to promoting multidisciplinary research, education, and policy studies on public health.

“The point of this conference is to gather these very well-informed and influential experts who are working on vital, current-day problems and have them stop to consider the horizon of global public health, especially the more distant horizon,” says Gerald T. Keusch, GHI director, Medical Campus assistant provost for global health, and associate dean for global health at the School of Public Health.

Participants in the four-day event include 75 experts from developed and developing nations, among them U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona; founder of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Doctors Without Borders, Bernard Kouchner; Mexican Minister of Health Julio Frenk; Nirmal Ganguly, director of the Indian Council of Medical Research; Jeffrey Sachs, an antipoverty advocate and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University; and Carol Bellamy, former executive director of UNICEF.

Two conference events are open to the BU community and the public, including a plenary session, introduced by President Robert Brown, on Wednesday, November 16, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. in the George Sherman Union’s Metcalf Hall, 775 Commonwealth Ave. Its topic will be What Does “Health” Really Mean? What Will It Mean in 2050? Carmona and Kouchner, along with other participants, will speak. A reception follows.

The second event open to the public is a free screening of the 2005 Academy Award– nominated South African film Yesterday, featuring an introduction by, and discussion with, the producer, Anant Singh, on Thursday, November 17, at the Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave., at 7 p.m. The moving story of a young mother with AIDS, the film tells how, left alone, she tries to survive to see her young child go to school.

The entire conference will be webcast live from the newly launched GHI Web site. More details about the conference, including a full list of participants and information about public sessions and the webcast, and information about the GHI are available at the site.

The conference will cover five topics:

• The Meaning of Health –– What is the meaning of health now, and what will it be in 2050?

• Creativity –– What is the relationship of creativity to health and of health to creativity, and how does it lead individuals to become innovators in science or the arts?

• Identity –– How might our identity, at the genomic, the individual, and the community level, affect our health and our behavior, and what are the social and political implications of this for the future?

• Urbanization –– How will rapidly expanding urbanization transform rural and urban areas, alter the physical environment, and create new habitats for emerging diseases?

• Institutions –– How do supranational institutions such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization, as well as national institutions, improve or hinder the ability to address a broad range of health issues today, as well as in 2050?

The conference is organized summit-style. Participants will hear addresses by speakers on each topic, which will be followed by remarks from invited discussants and then lead to general discussion from conference participants.

“Our hope,” says Keusch, “is that through a multidisciplinary sharing of ideas and experiences — and a deliberate effort to take the long-term view — participants will come away with new and exciting insights relevant to their own fields of expertise, as well as plans of action to put into place.”

Conference participants from Boston University include Robert Pinsky, former U.S. poet laureate and a CAS professor of English; Steve Grossberg, CAS cognitive and neural systems department chair and professor; Andre de Quadros, CFA school of music director and professor; James Collins, a UNI and an ENG professor and Center for BioDynamics director; Farouk El Baz, a research professor and Center for Remote Sensing director; Cutler Cleveland, a CAS professor of geography and Center for Energy and Environmental Studies director; and Laurence Kotlikoff, CAS economics department chair and professor.

The conference is sponsored by the Global Health Initiative, the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer Range Future, the School of Public Health, the RAND Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition, and the RAND Center for Domestic and International Health Security.

Grants in support of the event were received from Frederick S. Pardee (SMG’54, GSM’54), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Alan and Sherry Leventhal Fund for Leadership and Innovation at Boston University.