By Jonah Grinkewitz

ODU's 20th annual Graduate Research Conference, held on March 4, explored the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global health.

Led by Dr. Fernando Llorca Castro, Costa Rica's ambassador to the United States, a virtual panel of health experts discussed challenges and opportunities for a post-pandemic world.

Llorca discussed Costa Rica's response to the pandemic as part of the Provost's Lecture Series in 2020. He was the first ambassador from his country to speak at ODU.

"After this pandemic, we must try not to leave anyone out," Llorca said. "The real challenge for governments is to be able to deal with huge amounts of people in need of health care."

He said the technology to improve global health exists, but just needs to be applied.

Dr. Muge Akpinar-Elci, dean of University of Nevada-Reno's School of Public Health and former associate dean of the College of Health Sciences at ODU, shared the same sentiment.

"The main focus of global health is keeping communities healthy - disease is the last stage of the problem," she said.

Akpinar-Elci said there are more threats to global health besides disease, including sea level rise, wildfires and the opioid crisis.

She said she hopes more public health graduates will be in leadership positions to prioritize the resources needed to address these challenges.

Wie Yusuf, professor of public service at ODU, studies coastal resilience and public policy.

She said the multiple hazards faced during the pandemic expanded the definition of vulnerability and showed how marginalized groups are disproportionately affected.

"The post-COVID world will continue to be marked by these cascading and compounding effects," Yusuf said. "We need to rethink public policy to respond to all of these threats combined and reach people in the most vulnerable groups."

Yusuf said it was not all doom and gloom though, and the pandemic taught us many lessons.

"The whole of government and community working together works," she said. "But the government alone cannot be responsible. We need to connect new partners and collaborators, including neighborhood associations and faith-based organizations."

Dr. Alexandra Leader, director of global health at Eastern Virginia Medical School, expressed a similar need to include historically marginalized groups in global and community health plans.

"If we do not work to ensure the health and security of everyone, we can't protect the health of anyone," she said. "We must build a society of health for all and take advantage of this opportunity to reimagine the system."

Dr. Claire Winiarek, head of health care policy at Amazon, said governments should play a larger role in achieving these goals.

"Public health and global health are extremely politicized, but it is important to focus on the personal aspects," she said.

Eduardo Landaeta, chairman of the Graduate Research Conference and Ph.D. student in international studies at ODU, said he was excited that the discussion included national and global speakers sharing their expertise during this time of uncertainty.

"This roundtable affirmed there is much we can do as a community to reshape public policies to mitigate the impact on the most vulnerable populations," he said.

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