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UMass Chan to host July 2 virtual global conference on sustainable health equity

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A UMass Medical School faculty member, who is the former minister of health of Ecuador, has organized a virtual international conference July 2 on “health equity in the pandemic and beyond,” an initiative driven by the pressing need to address health disparities within and among countries that are being amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

David E. Chiriboga, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine, coordinated the event with Paulo Buss, MD, ScD, professor emeritus at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation and member of the National Academy of Medicine in Brazil; Juan Garay MD, MPH, professor of global health at the National School of Public Health in Spain; and members of the interim steering committee for the initiative. Dr. Chiriboga also served as president pro tempore of the Council of Health Ministers of South America.

The Virtual Global Event on Sustainable Health Equity is intended to highlight the importance of sustainable health equity in the response to the pandemic and beyond; reiterate the initiative’s support for the United Nations and World Health Organization as ethical global leaders that are poised to guide the comprehensive response to the pandemic and its aftermath; and launch the nascent sustainable health equity movement, according to Chiriboga.

Michelle Bachelet, MD, UN high commissioner for human rights and former president of Chile, has been confirmed as a keynote speaker. Other invited keynote speakers include the UN secretary general and WHO director general, or their delegates.

The list of confirmed guest speakers includes:

  • World Federation of Public Health Associations, represented by immediate past president and delegate to the initiative Laetitia Rispel, PhD – South Africa
  • World Medical Association, represented by former president and delegate to the initiative, Professor Sir Michael Marmot – United Kingdom
  • The InterAcademy Partnership, represented by President Volker ter Meulen, MD, PhD – Germany
  • World Federation of Critical Care Nurses, represented by President Adriano Friganović – Croatia
  • International Association of National Public Health Institutes, represented by President André van der Zande, PhD – Netherlands
  • Latin American Alliance of Global Health, represented by President and former Minister of Health of Costa Rica Maria del Rocio Saenz, MD, MPH – Costa Rica
  • Former minister of health of Liberia and current Dean of the College of Health Sciences, University of Liberia, Bernice Dahn, MD, MPH – Liberia

Additional information about the initiative and the webinar can be found at

Chiriboga and colleagues submitted an open letter to the United Nations on April 21 calling for ethical global leadership to mitigate the health and socioeconomic burden of the pandemic on disadvantaged populations worldwide. The letter has been co-signed by more than 160 institutions representing approximately 20 million health professionals. It expressed support for the U.N. and WHO for leadership in the pandemic and proposed to create a Global Health Equity Task Force, housed within the WHO, that would be charged with developing strategies for fair allocation of resources; supporting the development of recommendations on preparedness and response for vulnerable populations; and crafting tailored, secure deconfinement strategies. Additionally, it would promote steps to strengthen universal health care systems.

“COVID-19 is not the great equalizer; rather it amplifies the structural inequities and racism worldwide,” Chiriboga said.

Chiriboga and colleagues formed an interim steering committee and held virtual meetings with U.N. Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed and WHO Deputy Director General, Zsuzsanna Jakab, PhD, and have convened a working group with WHO to establish a mechanism to collaborate at the global, regional and national levels.

UMass Medical School students Sarah Ferreira, Calvin Schaffer, Paula Whitmire, Bennett Vogt and Dhanya Kumar worked with Chiriboga to analyze data on inequities during the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. for presentation to the steering committee. They have been invited to play a leadership role in international efforts for equity, working together with the International Association of Medical Students.

Last month, Chiriboga and his team drafted a letter of correspondence, published May 15 in The Lancet, decrying the impact of the coronavirus on vulnerable populations in high income countries, as well as in low- and middle-income countries. The Lancet letter drew on reports of the pandemic’s heavy impacts  in New York, New Orleans and Chicago and the shocking pictures of bodies lying in the streets of Guayaquil, in Ecuador, while, “Despite widespread acts of solidarity, we are witnessing unconscionable stockpiling by wealthy countries and attempts by many to extract profits from the crisis.”