EI’s Virtual Annual Forum (VAF), held February 5-7, brought about 80 Fellows together for shared learning, an exchange of ideas and experiences, and a chance to build connections across cohorts. While the continuing impact of COVID-19 was a recurring theme of discussions, Fellows also were encouraged to develop a vision for the future in which all sectors of society share the goal of health equity.
The VAF was an opportunity for Fellows to meet CMB’s new president, Dr. Barbara J. Stoll, learn more about her background in academic medicine and pediatrics, and her impression of CMB’s programs. Dr. Stoll expressed her excitement about meeting the Fellows, through the Forum and individual conversations, and said their commitment to health equity and their resiliency reinforced her optimism for the future.
Keynote speakers were Dr. Roger I. Glass, Director of the Fogarty International Center and Associate Director for International Research at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Sohail Inayatullah, a futurist and professor at the Graduate Institute of Futures Studies at Tamkang University, Taipei. In his presentation, Dr. Glass stressed the importance of bringing the benefits of science – including stunning success in the development of COVID-19 vaccines – to as many people as possible. That means focusing on affordability, infrastructure for distribution, and pushing back against an “infodemic” of misinformation. Dr. Inayatullah said that images, metaphors, and narratives are persuasive tools that can challenge core assumptions and lead communities toward their vision of a better future. He encouraged Fellows to apply these techniques to their work in health equity, reminding them that utopia-like ideas can move into mainstream thinking and ultimately be translated into policy.
Breakout sessions – often led by Fellows – focused on skills for design thinking and media presentations, and country presentations gave Fellows a chance to share updates on developments related to COVID-19 and other health trends, policymaking, and challenges to equity. Overall, participants found value in the virtual version of the Annual Forum – while signaling enthusiasm for a return to in-person gatherings, when such events can safely resume.