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Houston Global Health Collaborative hosts fourth annual EMPOWER Conference

Houston Global Health Collaborative hosts fourth annual EMPOWER Conference

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The Houston Global Health Collaborative hosted Friday its fourth annual EMPOWER Conference at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

Approximately 170 students and health care professionals attended the two-day event to discuss and learn from global health leaders about health issues that affect vulnerable communities around the world and potential innovative solutions.

“Our goal is to connect individuals and institutions within the Texas Medical Center, as well as beyond, to address the global health issues of our time through education, research and service,” said Catherine Chen, fourth-year medical student at the John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Medical School and this year’s HBHC conference chair. “The conference is our way of giving a venue for which these things can happen. People have the opportunity to be in the same place to talk and hear about what other people within the Texas Medical Center are doing.

“It would not have been possible to hold this conference this year or any other year if we hadn’t had such a great group of students involved. They’ve done an amazing and terrific job,” she added.

Guests were invited to attend lecturettes and participate in small group problem-solving activities around eight various topics, including “Emergency Medicine and Essential Surgical Care,” “Innovations and Global Health Technologies,” “Maternal and Child Health,” “Infectious Diseases” and “Psychosocial Issues,” as well as discussions around local opportunities.

“Houston is very rich in our global health community,” said keynote speaker Sharmila Anandasabapathy, M.D., professor of gastroenterology at Baylor College of Medicine and director of the Baylor Global Innovation Center and Baylor Global Initiatives. “There are so many great groups here, and there are so many projects going on in the area — from pediatric to global health to tropical diseases to global engineering and technology development — that I think getting everybody in the same room to address what the greatest needs are and what the potential solutions are is fantastic.”

Anandasabapathy and her team at Baylor work on developing innovative, low-cost and environmentally appropriate technologies to alleviate the burden of disease in global communities. She said the inspiration for her interest in developing new technologies and approaches for the management of chronic, non-communicable diseases in other parts of the world stemmed from her background as a gastrointestinal endoscopist surrounded by expensive equipment, such as high definition scopes, monitors and lasers.

“I think it was around 2005 and 2006 when I was sitting in one of my endo rooms and I realized I had about $7 million worth of equipment — multiple monitors, multiple processors — all for one patient,” she said, explaining that this type of an approach is not sustainable in the U.S. nor is it an option for most of the rest of the world. “I started to think about ways of making endoscopic capacity — which is so important for cancer screening and detection and management of GI illnesses — more accessible and available: How can you take a scope that’s $300,000 and develop a device that’s $750 but does the same thing? Not only a device that’s $750, but one that’s portable, battery-operated, can work with wireless technology to transmit the images, and one that could ideally be used by a non-physician or non-endoscopist.”

Anandasabapathy said it is increasingly more important to realize that people cannot ignore the health issues and concerns of the global community. The three cases of Ebola in the U.S. in 2014 and growing concerns of the Zika virus are two recent examples that prove diseases that affect other countries impact the U.S. and vice versa.

“Also, diseases that affect the U.S. are developing [in] other parts of the world,” she said. “One of the leading causes of the death worldwide over the next 10 years [is] not tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. It’s cancer, heart disease and diabetes, even in sub-Saharan Africa.

“I don’t think of global health as looking beyond our own borders,” she added. “I think of global health as essential and, really, public health. It’s just good practice. It’s a globalized world, so global health is all of us.”

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