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The Gauntlet

Of sickness and of health

Conference raises awareness of global health issues

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Those who are unhappy with the Canadian health care system might benefit from a healthy dose of perspective.

On Sat., March 16 the "Nations in Distress" conference will be presented by the Global Health Interest Group, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Canadian Federation of Medical Students International Health Program.

"Here in Canada we learn about physical disease processes, and those are very important in determining health outcomes," said MSF Co-chair and Conference Co-organizer Jonathan Ross. "But there are political, social, environmental and educational factors that all contribute to people's health, especially in the developing world."

Ross pointed out that this is not a new problem.

"After September 11, several countries came into the world spotlight because of their possible ties to terrorism," said Ross. "That's all fine and good that people are now aware of these countries, but they have been beset by conflict and civilian crisis that have had an enormous impact on health for many years."

The conference will welcome guest speakers from different walks of life to talk about health care in developing countries and the factors that contribute to those situations.

"We decided that this year one of our big themes would be to explore in detail just what the effects of war and upheaval are on civilian health," explained Ross. "Most of these speakers will be talking about their experiences in developing countries."

The list of speakers includes two former refugees from Iraq and Sudan. Ross explained that doctors from those same countries will add a second perspective to the refugees' perspective. Conference attendees will also learn more about factors that affect health and how they can become involved.

"This is an opportunity to learn about different international organizations, so that they can see what kind of opportunities there are to work abroad, and volunteer abroad," explained GHIG Co-chair and co-organizer Jessica Lyon.

Participation in the conference is not restricted to people and students in the medical field.

"The conference is for anybody that's interested in international health and international development, and not just for students," said Ross. "It was very important for us to have a wide number of fields because there are so many people that can contribute to health."

"This year we wanted to branch out and include more people from the campus community," agreed GHIG Co-chair and co-organizer Sue Pollock.

The event will include keynote speakers Kathryn Hannah, Co-chair of the Canadian Society for International Health and David Swann, Physicians working for Physicians for Global Survival. The conference will take place in the Clara Christy lecture theatre in the Health Sciences Building at Foothills Hospital. Those interrested in attending can e-mail joross@ucalgary.ca for more information. For more information on MSF, email msf@ucalgary.ca.

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