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Advancing Science for Global Health
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Home > Global Health Matters Jul/Aug 2019 > Diversity strengthens global health science: Opinion by Fogarty Director Dr Roger I Glass Print

Diversity strengthens global health science

July / August 2019 | Volume 18, Number 4

Three women participate in a panel discussion during the 2018 Women Leaders in Global Health conference.
Photo courtesy of London School of Hygiene and
Tropical Medicine

It is critical to ensure the full participation of a diversity of
voices in discussions intended to advance global health
research. This includes supporting women as they advance in
their careers, and become and thrive as global health leaders.

Opinion by Fogarty Director Dr Roger I Glass

Diverse perspectives are essential to advancing science, especially in the global health arena where regional, gender and cultural experiences can be quite different. I applaud NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins on his recent announcement that he is committed to inclusiveness and believes it is time to end the tradition of all-male speaking panels at scientific meetings. I and the Fogarty International Center staff enthusiastically join him in this effort.

As Dr. Collins pledged, “Too often, women and members of other groups underrepresented in science are conspicuously missing in the marquee speaking slots at scientific meetings and other high-level conferences. Starting now, when I consider speaking invitations, I will expect a level playing field, where scientists of all backgrounds are evaluated fairly for speaking opportunities. If that attention to inclusiveness is not evident in the agenda, I will decline to take part.”

We at Fogarty echo his concerns and will make these criteria part of our own consideration of speaking engagement invitations, for it is critical that we ensure the full participation of a diversity of voices in discussions intended to advance global health research.

A recent WHO study examined the unique barriers females face in global health and found that while care is largely delivered by women, the field is led by men. The gender gap is pervasive in academic medicine, where the report indicated only about 20% of deans at top global schools of medicine are women and about 70% of all publications are authored by men.

We’ve seen some signs of progress in that women are entering the global health career pipeline in greater numbers than ever, and are making significant contributions to academia and public health. In addition to providing them equal opportunities to highlight their expertise, voice their opinion, and influence the direction of research projects, we all must also work harder to ensure they have the opportunities needed for career advancement.

Here at NIH, 10 of the 27 Institutes and Centers have women directors - the highest number ever. My colleague Dr. Patti Brennan, Director of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), has captured their perspectives in a blog post titled, The Power of 10: Women Leaders of NIH.

As she put it, “Engaging with women leaders in partnership with our male colleagues sends a powerful and strong message. It’s not that we stand apart, it’s that we stand among ... We subtly but persistently bring perspective into the conversation at the NIH leadership table.”

Here at Fogarty, we benefit from the astute input of our female leaders. Three of our four division directors are women, all of whom were promoted from other positions at NIH. As we work to nurture the next generation of global health leaders it is auspicious that this year’s cohort of Fogarty and Fulbright global health fellows includes 64 women and 52 men.

I’m also encouraged that there are two groups helping women advance in global health careers. Women in Global Health now has six chapters worldwide working to achieve gender equality in global health leadership through a variety of activities.

Meanwhile, I continue to endorse the initiative begun by our former Fogarty board member, Dr. Michele Barry, to advance this agenda through the Women Leaders in Global Health (WLGH) organization and annual conference. The 2019 meeting will be held in Rwanda on Nov. 9-10.

For us at Fogarty, we also greatly value inclusion of geographic, economic and cultural diversity of presenters when conferences or consultations are convened. We will continue to make diversity at all levels a priority as we plan our own meetings and will include it in the decision-making criteria we use to consider speaking invitations from others.

We all benefit when global health conversations include diverse voices, representing different points of view. I hope you will join me in working to support this worthy goal.

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