Former Gubernatorial Candidate, Public Health Analyst address global health issues in annual symposium

Sunday, February 17, 2019 - 5:39pm

2018 Gubernatorial Candidate and former Health Director of Detroit, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, speaks about his inspiration to make longterm impacts on global health throughout his life at Rackham Graduate School Saturday.

2018 Gubernatorial Candidate and former Health Director of Detroit, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, speaks about his inspiration to make longterm impacts on global health throughout his life at Rackham Graduate School Saturday. Buy this photo
Carter Fox/Daily

On Saturday morning, Michigan Health Engineered for All Lives (M-HEAL) and Timmy Global Health at the University of Michigan hosted their annual Global Health Symposium. Around 85 students and faculty were in attendance.

The event featured Abdul El-Sayed, 2018 gubernatorial candidate and former Health Director of Detroit; Yuan-Po Tu, Center for Disease Control public health analyst; and Business junior Anurag Bolneni, CFO of Blueprints For Pangaea.

Each year, M-HEAL and the Michigan chapter of Timmy Global Health co-host the event with the goal of bringing awareness to global health issues and encouraging students to explore interdisciplinary ways to address these problems. Both groups focus on improving access and quality of healthcare on a global scale.

El-Sayed opened the symposium with a speech about privilege, institutions and morality in the field of public health. Throughout the speech he referenced his grandmother as an example of a woman who, despite her lack of access to institutions, inspires him with her moral clarity.

El-Sayed cited the gap in life expectancy he witnessed growing up between his hometown in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and Alexandria, Egypt, where his grandmother lived, and the similar gap twenty minutes away in Detroit, as his inspiration for getting involved in public health.

“I was motivated by the responsibility to leverage the privilege that my grandmother so clearly highlighted that I have to address that gap,” El-Sayed said.

He urged the audience to consider their own privileges and stressed the importance of thinking outside of institutions and holding onto one’s ideals.

“Increments matter. Ideals matter more,” El-Sayed said. “And the question we ask ourselves in these moments is whether or not we are moving forward on those ideals… sometimes the greatest moral clarity comes when you act independent of institutions, like my grandmother. So work hard in these institutions, move these institutions, but be guided by ideals that are far greater than these institutions.”

Engineering senior Ashley Zhang, the M-HEAL marketing officer, told The Daily in an interview after the event she was enthusiastic about having El-Sayed speak at the event.

“We started planning back in the fall, contacting speakers and stuff,” Zhang said. “I was actually really excited because when I first joined the planning committee last year I really wanted to get Abdul because I saw him at TEDx two years ago.”

The next speaker, Tu, gave a presentation on measles. He discussed what the disease is, how it spreads and why outbreaks continue to occur in the U.S. He stressed the importance of vaccination against the measles, and addressed “vaccine hesitancy,” as well as the reasons that some people delay or refuse vaccines. Tu addressed the controversies surrounding vaccines and questioned the extent to which legislation should play a role in enforcing vaccination.

One audience member asked about the best way to respond to people opposed to vaccinations. Tu echoed El-Sayed’s earlier sentiments about the importance of exercising compassion and understanding in these discussions, presenting arguments in a way that tells a story rather than simply stating facts.

“The loudest voices are the ones that are politically active, though they may not necessarily be the majority,” Tu said. “And that’s why it’s important for those who have the privilege to be scientifically educated to assert their voice as well, but to remember to assert it in a kind way and a convincing way.”

Bolneni finished the symposium by passing out unused, packaged medical instruments to the crowd. He explained that his team, Blueprints for Pangaea, had picked up the devices from a hospital that was planning to throw them away.

Bolneni spoke about the economic inefficiency and environmental impact of wasted medical supplies and shared Blueprints for Pangaea’s initiative to redistribute these items and make an impact on hospitals in need.

“While the United States healthcare system proliferates the production of carbon emission and adds to already copious amounts of waste in global landfills, there’s a clear need— there are people, there are children, abroad... who have debilitating health conditions and don’t have a readily available solution because they don’t have the medical equipment necessary to have that help,” Bolneni said.