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Home > Global Health Matters Mar/Apr 2022 > CUGH 2022 examines pandemic corruption, anti-science movement Print

CUGH 2022 examines pandemic corruption, anti-science movement

March/ April 2022 | Volume 21 Number 2

Ubuntu, the African concept of humanity, includes the philosophy of “health is wealth," explained Thuli N. Madonsela, keynote speaker at the 2022 Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) conference. Madonsela added: “nothing has evidenced this truism so vividly in our lifetime as the COVID-19 pandemic." As the wealth of health became a reality for everyone, “it was inconceivable that the dark side of humanity in the form of the scourge of corruption" would show “its sordid face…yet it did," said Madonsela.

Logo of Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) 2022 Image courtesy of CUGH The theme of the 2022 conference was “Healthy People, Healthy Planet, Social Justice"

This year's annual CUGH conference, dedicated  to “Healthy People, Healthy Planet, Social Justice," hosted more than 2,000 scientists and students representing a range of medical and non-medical disciplines who addressed some of the most pressing challenges faced by the world. CUGH, founded in 2018, comprises more than 170 academic institutions and other organizations focused on global health. 

Pandemic scourge 

Corruption tips the scales in favor of the politically connected and the wealthy, Madonsela noted, recalling the looting of pandemic resources in developing nations and the hoarding and exorbitant pricing of vaccines, tests, and treatments in developed nations. “An unexplored ugly side of this competition-driven response to COVID-19 was how African indigenous systems and solutions were dismissed," added Madonsela, chair of Social Justice at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Neglect of indigenous knowledge and health resource asymmetries exist far beyond the scope of the pandemic. One-size-fits-all policies persist despite their failure to meet the needs of many people, often the disadvantaged. “Injustice undermines the social contract that undergirds democracy," said Madonsela. “Social justice and the anti-corruption crusade coming together could be the game changer."

What would health look like if everyone counted? It is time to weave ubuntu into our pursuit of health equity, said Madonsela, who feels hopeful. The UN Millennium Development Goals have improved South African public health and global data shows the same, she noted. “Today is better than yesterday when it comes to health equity and social justice."  While problems still exist, “levels of awareness have grown and that's an advantage. Africa is becoming more than just a market where everyone else dumps their health outputs. It's becoming an equal partner in understanding health challenges and formulating solutions…planting a seed has power."

Global security at risk

The 2022 conference dedicated a plenary session to "Corruption, Money Laundering, Governance, and Global Security." The COVID-19 response, including lockdowns, led to the rise of totalitarianism, said co-founder of Transparency International Frank Vogl: “The pandemic has had a negative impact on democracy in every region in the world." Corruption is “universal" and not confined to low and middle-income countries, he noted. In the same session, Olusoji Adeyi, a former director at the World Bank Group, said higher resource nations “codify their corruption — 'lobbying' is just a codified word for legalized corruption." In every instance where someone steals, someone else receives, and those recipients are bankers, lawyers, and accountants, he said. To rectify corruption, high income country governments need to rework banking laws and expose corruption through transparency, while developing countries need to promote accountability using checks and balances.

Colonial mindset & anti-science movement

AFREhealth hosted a satellite session focused on decolonizing global health post-pandemic, a topic covered heavily in this year's conference. The session's keynote speaker, Dr. Jimmy Volmink of Stellenbosch University, argued, “The most egregious shortcoming of the global response to COVID-19 was the lack of solidarity between nations in the face of a common threat." He later added, “The colonial perspective of global health needs reconceptualization to move towards a more equitable future."

Deputy director of Fogarty, Dr. Peter Kilmarx, presented findings from the AFREhealth CUGH research subcommittee, which he co-chairs. They highlighted increased collaboration in multi-country studies, focused on the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations in Africa, and emphasized vaccine hesitancy as one area for future work. The group also discussed using metrics to help make Fogarty's capacity-building projects in LMICs more equitable and effective.

In a satellite session focused on the growing anti-science movement, panelists addressed growing mistrust of public health authorities and anti-vaccine sentiments, ranging from hesitancy to opposition. Renowned virologist Dr. Peter Hotez reminded the group of the stark reality that 'anti-science' has been a leading cause of preventable death in the United States throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Maureen Lichtveld, an epidemiologist and dean at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health whose work centers around environmental health, said, “This mistrust in science is not a new phenomenon to environmental health. The pandemic has simply amplified it." In a later discussion on how scientists can address the issue, Dr. Kilmarx pointed out that those who received NIH funding must report their communication with the public and any publications to encourage public discourse with scientists.

NCI's Cancer Research Symposium 

This year also marked the 10th anniversary of the Symposium on Global Cancer Research hosted by the National Cancer Institute's (NCI). The 3-day satellite session included an Early Career Investigator Day in addition to the symposium, “New Models for Global Cancer Research, Training, and Control." Dr. Satish Gopal, director of NCI's Center for Global Health, opened and closed the symposium with a remembrance of the late global health leader, Dr. Paul Farmer. Quoting him, he said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world."

Fogarty Fellows & Scholars

In the annual Fogarty Fellows and Scholars session, recent fellows presented their projects in various disciplines. Keenan Withers, a psychiatry resident at UCLA, presented his project on factors impacting PrEP adherence among men in Vietnam with a history of recreational drug use. “The Fogarty fellowship is unique as it allows you to have mentors at every level of your project, which was very rewarding." Other project areas included adapting trauma neuroimaging paradigms in South Africa and identifying resources for children with neurodevelopment disorders in Ghana. Two projects based in Zambia studied the correlation between gender, HIV and hypertension, and the prevalence of cervical and breast cancers and HIV in aging patients in Latin America.

Implementation science in LMICs

Rachel Sturke, deputy director of Fogarty's Center for Global Health Studies, moderated a session centered on the role of implementation science in evidence-based interventions in LMICs. The panel included leaders from public sector health systems, academia, and funding agencies. “Investments in training local researchers and governments will continue to be a key mechanism to decolonize global health," said panelist Anita Zaidi of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She later added, “we must fund the entire ecosystem to see the result in capacity-building projects, not just the end goal."

To end the conference, Dr. Joseph Kolars, incoming CUGH chair, shared his thoughts on the “important, compelling, and frankly daunting" work ahead: “We've got climate and environmental crises. We have political systems that are giving way to conflict … So many of us have been struggling to overcome the COVID pandemic, where the problems of equity have really been illuminated." He called for community, dialogue and connection. “We need each other to share in our commitment to the common good…we've all gotten much more in touch with the need to have a decolonizing mindset … we can do this despite some of the clouds overhead."

More Information

Updated April 19, 2022

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