#APHA15, Day Four: Wednesday is for Breakfast, Presentations, Moderating, and Final Thoughts

The final day of the conference is normally a pretty relaxed. Section members have typically eaten a good meal (and had a good laugh) at the Awards Dinner and social, the Governing Council has convened to pass policies and elect APHA presidential and executive board candidates, and they have had plenty of time to scope out the expo for the best SWAG. For me, however, this was not the case: the highlight of my Annual Meeting experience was presenting my very first abstract on Mandatory HIV Testing in the Republic of Korea at the International Health and Human Rights session.

Global Health Leaders Breakfast
My last day began early with the Global Health Leaders Breakfast hosted by APHA and coordinated by Vina HuLamm, our Global Health Manager on APHA staff. This year’s featured speaker was Dr. Sir Michael Marmot, arguably one of the most well-known and respected epidemiological researchers in the world. Unfortunately, I could not stay long enough at the breakfast to hear him speak, as my presentation was the first one of the session and began at 8:35 sharp, but I did have enough time to snap a picture of him with some of our Section leaders.

Alas, one drawback of being the Section’s Communications Chair is that I am usually behind the camera. Maybe I can hire a Co-chair in time to be in the picture next year.

I also got a chance to hear Dr. Jim Chauvin, a Canadian public health professional and former president of the World Federation of Public Health Associations, introduce Dr. Marmot and share his excitement about the election of new prime minister Justin Trudeau, which he hoped would bring a revival of public health and its prioritization. It is too soon to tell whether Trudeau will usher in a public health renaissance, but videos like this one lend some optimism to the prospect:

Presenting on International Health and Human Rights
After Dr. Chauvin finished his remarks, I dashed off to the International Human Rights session to present my abstract on Korea’s discriminatory policy of mandatory HIV tests for foreign English teachers and EPS workers. I was the first presentation of the session and was followed by two presentations on Palestinian human rights violations by the IDF in the last Gaza war, a talk on women’s rights with the Beijing Declaration as a framework, and an overview of USAID’s efforts to promote gender equality within its development projects (e.g., an indoor residual spraying program). Palestinian human rights is obviously a hot topic, and our Section in particular is active on the issue (and even has a Palestinian Health Justice working group), so most of the discussion with the audience focused on those talks. However, I did get one question from the audience that allowed me to discuss the difficulty in overturning HIV-related travel restrictions in national immigration policies.

Moderating M&E
I volunteered to moderate our Section’s session on Monitoring, Evaluation, and Quality Improvement, which is of particular interest to me as an epidemiologist and a research specialist. This session was a bit shorter, featuring three presentations on different monitoring and evaluation programs, including a health and microfinance intervention in Tanzania, adapting an existing system to monitor the WHO’s efforts to mitigate the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and an effort to improve data usage by reducing the number of indicators used in data collection to only those which are absolutely essential (always a win in my book!).

Final Thoughts
APHA 2015 marked the fourth Annual Meeting that I have attended, and the second that I attended as a member of the Section leadership. This one was one of the most successful for me personally: I had an abstract accepted and authored a late-breaker that was adopted (and will hopefully pave the way for a permanent policy position on the issue for APHA to adopt at next year’s meeting). I met lots of interesting and engaging people, made connections with emerging Section leaders, and even planned a global health jobs analysis as a joint effort between the Communications and Global Health Connections Committees (stay tuned for more details; we will be seeking volunteers soon!).

The Section leadership’s next hurdle is to make sure that interested members get plugged into the Section’s activities that interest them. There are always ways to get involved, put yourself out there, and gain valuable experience in global health advocacy, research, fundraising, and networking. Please contact any member of the leadership for more information on how to get more involved!

#APHA15, Day Three: Tuesday is for Science, Policy Victories (with T-shirts), and Awards

Ever since my first meeting in 2009, my favorite aspect of the Annual Meeting has been the scientific sessions. It is a really great opportunity to keep track of emerging research and developments in your area of interest, meet other public health scientists and advocates (and potential collaborators), and get exposures to new ideas and approaches to public health issues.

HIV Prevention with an emphasis on PrEP
My first session of the day was International Issues in HIV Prevention, which featured presentations on PrEP and PEP access in Japan, elevated HIV risk among MSM in China, conception and family planning among HIV-positive women in South Africa, and the intersection of conflict, substance abuse, and HIV risk. (Basically, it had just about everything that interests me – HIV, human rights, refugee issues, and East Asia.) I was particularly pleased to have the chance to chat with the speaker who presented his work on PrEP and PEP in Japan, as I imagine that many of the same sociopolitical and cultural barriers to effective HIV prevention programs in Korea also affect Japan. I am hoping that his work will help to inform mine, and he took great interest in my work once he figured out that I was the person behind the late-breaker that his section had endorsed and was following very closely (he is a Governing Councilor for the HIV/AIDS Section).

After that, I dashed over to Chinatown to replace my phone at the T-Mobile store after the screen on my faithful Galaxy S3 bit the dust when I dropped my phone at a Spanish tapas bar last night, and to grab lunch. When you are the Communications Committee Chair, being without a phone (and unable to access social media and a phone camera at a moment’s notice) simply will not fly…and if the nearest T-Mobile store is in Chinatown, it seems only logical to get lunch in the neighborhood.

I made my way to the second PrEP session of the conference with my new phone in hand and had a chance to listen to presentations on provider perspective and challenges in prescribing PrEP and helping their clients get access to it, as well as studies on awareness and attitudes toward PrEP among high-risk groups, particularly MSM. PrEP is obviously a hot topic in HIV prevention and has unique implications public health in the US vs. globally (as approaches to approval, coverage, and provision will differ by country and depend how well a given health care system functions), and these presentations will be informative to my day job.

Policy Victories do Ninjas Make, so I Bought a T-shirt
After meeting a very nice red panda, whom I noticed on Twitter earlier in the day and who happened to be in the PrEP session at the same time, I had another shift at the IH Booth. It was there that, to my delight, one of our Governing Councilors e-mailed me to let me know that our late-breaker opposing mandatory HIV tests for foreign nationals passed with overwhelming support. Naturally I was thrilled, but unfortunately I was only halfway through my shift at the booth, so I resisted the urge to do my victory dance in the Expo (and potentially scare off interested members). After finishing my shift, however, I decided that getting a late-breaker resolution passed qualified me as a Public Health Ninja, so I treated myself to a t-shirt identifying me as exactly that.


Afterwards, I headed to International Perspectives on Healthcare Administration, mainly to listen to the two presentations on research done on South Korea’s healthcare system.

Section Awards Dinner: Putting Faces to Names
The highlight of the day, of course, was the IH Section Awards Dinner and Social. This was a nice chance for me to unwind a bit, chat with other Section members (including some, like the chairs of the Global Health Connections and Student Committees, whom I had only spoken to by phone until now), and enjoy Gopal Sankaran’s great emcee skills and Paul Freeman’s delightfully Australian sense of humor. We had fantastic turnout even despite having the same time slot as the social for the Global Health Fellows Program.

My own Annual Meeting magnus opus is yet to come, however. Tomorrow morning I present my abstract on Mandatory HIV Testing for Foreign Nationals in the Republic of Korea: Human Rights Violations and Bad Public Health Policy. Stay tuned!

#APHA15, Day Two: Monday is for Networking (and @ninjasforhealth)

After dashing hither and thither on the first day of the conference to ensure that our HIV testing late-breaker was ready, I woke up early on Monday morning to be ready for the real meat of the professional conference experience: networking.

International Health Section: Second Business Meeting 
The second IH business meeting – always held delightfully early at 7 a.m. – traditionally focuses on reports and updates of Section activities, both at the Annual Meeting and throughout the year. Most of the activity involves the elected leadership and committee/working group chairs. This year we had several observers, both regular members and students, which I thought was great, as it allows members to see the meat of what the Section does. GC Whip Carol Dabbs presented policies of interest that will go before the Governing Council today (including one on climate change), and Governing Counselor Caroline Kingori gave an overview of the candidates for APHA President-Elect and Executive Board. Program co-chairs Mini Murthy and Vamsi Vasireddy then discussed successes and reflections of the Program Committee in reviewing abstracts and putting the Section’s program together for the AM, which includes both scientific and invited sessions. (This committee is a great way to gain experience reviewing abstracts and always needs help – students, take note!) Finally, Global Health Connections Committee Chair Theresa Majeski engaged section members and leadership on how to better engage students and new members, including some strategies for improving how our Section communicates its activities (I guess that’s me). I personally plan to take those suggestions to heart, so readers will hopefully see some changes to this blog in the coming weeks, once the AM irons cool and we all recover from traveling.

Students Want Jobs: IHSC’s Career Roundtable
My next stop was the Career Roundtable session, where the Student Committee asked me to lead a discussion table as a freelancer and still-aspiring global health professional. My personal goal was to show that landing that “perfect job” in global health can sometimes take more time and persistence than originally anticipated, but there are different paths a professional can take to get there (including working in domestic public health to gain experience). I also wanted to provide a “Millenial” perspective on breaking into the field, as paths of entry now look very different than they did for Gen X. I also feel like my publications and freelance history in global health work speak for themselves, but I get that not everyone is interested in doing freelance work.

This was a very interesting experience for me. As predicted, students were hungry for tips on how to get an edge in the application process, how to get applicable volunteer experience (like participating in IH section activities), what types of short-term experience abroad are valuable for a resume, how to frame their domestic public health experience when applying for global health positions later (if they chose to go that route), and – always the key question – how to make themselves stand out from the (massive and ever-growing) pile of applications for the highly-coveted global health full-time jobs. There were questions about the Peace Corps (whose recent re-vamp of the way volunteers are recruited is much improved, thank God), how to secure valuable internships (and what those look like), the value of short-term missions trips, and where to find post-graduate fellowships that provide the initial year or two of experience required of most permanent positions. I also strove to keep the discussion candid, which gave me a chance to glimpse both the zeal and frustration of aspiring professionals of my generation. Stories of applying to dozens of jobs with a steady stream of rejections, worry over servicing student loans post-graduation, and outrage over the abundance of unpaid internships were common. I strove to emphasize that experience in state and local health departments and domestic non-profits can go a long way in building skills required by global health jobs, and that volunteer experience with global health and development organizations (like working with the IH Section!) is just as valuable as paid work. One student even asked me if I put my work with the IH Section on my resume, and I was proud to say that I do – and I usually put it first.

Public Health Expo: Staffing the Section Booth, Scoping out Schools, and Networking with Ninjas
The expo is one of my favorite parts of the AM. I love the bigness and busy-ness of it, and I have a hard time resisting the SWAG (though I was mostly successful this time since I am flying with Spirit). I started out by staffing the IH Section’s booth (many thanks to members who volunteered to do this, btw), engaging members and attendees interested in Section membership and promoting our Section activities at the during the meeting.

Section leaders at our booth in the Expo.
Section leaders at our booth in the Expo.

After my shift, I spent some time collecting information on doctoral programs from schools of public health, as I expect to be in the market for a Ph.D. or DrPH program in the next year or two. I got some great information on how to seek out funding and even got to practice my (rusty) French with the outreach coordinator of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Unfortunately, I can never resist the LSHTM mugs, so I will have to find space for it in my oh-so-professional Hello Kitty bag.

I also chatted with several global health employers and programs, including PHI’s Global Health Fellows Program with USAID, Abt Associates, and the Public Health Institute. But my favorite booth by far was Ninjas for Health. This duo focuses on bringing emerging tech and development talent into public health and impressed me by calling for improvement and a wider variety of talent to the APHA Codeathon, which debuted this year (I think). These guys speak my language, and I highly encourage any members interested in technology, ICT4D, programming, and social media to check them out.

Note to self: Go back to this booth and buy a ninja t-shirt.

Next up: Tuesday is for Science!

#APHA15, Day One: Sunday is for Scrambling a Late-Breaker and Section Introductions

Good evening, all, and – for those of you attending – welcome to Chicago and APHA’s Annual Meeting! According to tradition (and my job besides), I will be blogging my experiences at the Annual Meeting. I arrived yesterday, so I am obviously behind, but hopefully section readers will forgive the delay. After saying up all night to revise my late-breaker proposal (more on that below), it was all I could do yesterday to eat dinner and collapse into bed after a busy (and hectic) start to the meeting.

Scrambling a Late-Breaker Policy Proposal: Opposition to Forced HIV Testing as a Condition of Employment for Foreign Nationals
After the UN CERD issued its ruling that South Korea’s policy of mandatory HIV tests for foreign English teachers constituted racial discrimination, I joined forces with our Section’s Advocacy/Policy Committee, along with the HIV/AIDS Section (which endorsed the late-breaker) to craft a late-breaker policy for APHA to take a stance against HIV tests as a condition of employment for immigrants. Having never written a policy proposal before, there was a lot of trial and error on my part, but after some back-and-forth and fine-tuning, I submitted the proposal in mid-September on behalf of the IH Section. I was disappointed to receive the rejection letter last Tuesday but chalked it up to my inexperience with the process and resolved to re-submit it as a full policy proposal for next year’s meeting.

Imagine my surprise when, on Saturday afternoon, I got another e-mail from the Joint Policy Committee explaining that they had changed their ruling to allow the policy to proceed to the JPC hearings on Sunday. I cheerfully forwarded the message on to the colleagues who had helped me…and then I realized that I would have to revise the proposal according to the suggestions in the initial rejection letter in the next 24 hours. So, after a delightful afternoon at Austin Comic Con as Attack on Titan‘s Annie Leonhart, I spent the rest of the day revising the late-breaker and scrambling to arrange meetings with willing colleagues in other Sections (many thanks to Andy Baker-White from the Law Section) to serve as a fresh pair of eyes.

International Health Section: First Business Meeting
After sending off the revised late-breaker, it was time for the IH Section’s first business meeting. I must say that it continues to improve each year, and this year’s approach was targeted and purposeful for student members in particular, who had a chance to rotate to different committee and working group chairs seated at different tables. As usual, we had quite a few students who were interested in learning more about what we do and how they could get involved in our activities. It was great to see longtime colleagues and meet new people. Students, please visit our About page for contact information for our committees and working groups, and reach out to get involved!

JPC Hearings: Part Two of the Sudden Late-Breaker Saga
After submitting the revised draft of the Late-Breaker and (re)connecting with IH Section members, I dashed off to the JPC hearings for policy proposals and late-breakers. I was slightly intimidated at the prospect of explaining (and potentially defending) the late-breaker, but Kevin Sykes, our A/P Committee Chair, helpfully broke down the procedures and let me know what to expect. The hearings themselves were pretty tame (although to be fair, my own mental picture of Benghazi-esque questioning was probably not realistic). Fortunately, our late-breaker received support from the HIV/AIDS Section and the Occupational Health and Safety Section and was recommended to the Governing Council for adoption by the JPC. Success!

It just goes to show that even someone totally green can succeed with enough support and persistence (and very little sleep).

Soon to follow: Monday is for Networking (and Ninjas for Health). Stay tuned!

Featured Global Health Sessions at the Annual Meeting

Attention, APHA Annual Meeting Attendees! Vina HuLamm, APHA’s Global Health Manager, has asked us to highlight several sessions and invite you all to attend. The global health diplomacy and women leaders in global health sessions will be of particular interest. You can view the entire Global Health program for the meeting here.

Monday, November 2, 2015
8:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m.

3014.0 U.S. – Mexico Border Health: Challenges and Opportunities

10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
3129.0 Public Health Associations: a voice for global public health

12:30 p.m.-2:00 p.m.
3232.0 Applied Global Health Diplomacy – Linking communities with government for better health policy and population health

2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
3334.0 Alliance of Public Health Associations in the Americas: A new vehicle for improving population health and health equity in our hemisphere

Tuesday, November 3, 2015
8:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m.
4013.0 Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health: A challenge for health systems

10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
4108.0 Sustainable Development Goals and Health in All Policies

2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
4294.0 Raising Stories and Voices in Health & Development
4294.1 Who runs the world? The role of women leadership in the new global Sustainable Development Goals

4:30 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
4397.2 Building Health Systems through the Faith-Based and Public Sectors to Advance Universal Health Coverage in Low-Resource and Post-Conflict Settings

Wednesday, November 4, 2015
8:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m.
5031.0 Diabetes Prevention Treatment and Care in Cuba – implications for US Public Health