UW conference explores the intersection of justice and health

Kavita Ramdas, Executive Director of the Program on Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford, will set the tone.

By Claudia Rowe, special correspondent

The relationship between social justice and human health is at the heart of an upcoming conference at the University of Washington expected to draw hundreds of students and policy experts to Seattle at the end of this month.

Co-sponsored by more than two dozen colleges and universities, The 9th Annual Western Regional International Health Conference highlights global perspectives on mental health; marginalized populations; clinical issues; funding; communications; and the environment. It runs April 27-29.

“You’ll have people with PhDs and MDs sitting on panels with graduate students, all of them talking about the research they’re doing,” said Lisa Lester, an organizer and UW senior majoring in Spanish and international studies.

“It’s just very exciting and we’ve gotten just huge amounts of support. I definitely get the sense that in Seattle global health is a field that’s on the rise.”

The keynote

Kavita Ramdas, former president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, plans to kick off the event with a speech entitled “Nothing Less than a Revolution: Why I’m Preoccupied with Inequality, Social Justice and Health.”

Gender equity, she believes, is essential to the health of a civil society: “It’s a key indicator of whether that society will thrive,” Ramsas told an interviewer at Forbes in 2008. And during her tenure at the Fund for Women, assets at the grant-making organization increased from $6 million to $21 million. Outreach efforts reached 170 countries.

Currently Executive Director of the Program on Social Entrepreneurship at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, Ramdas was heralded as a Leader for the 21st Century within five years of earning her graduate degree from Princeton University.

Student engagement

Lester has focused her work on mental health and the ways trauma, conflict and culture can impede those seeking help.

“I spent time in Morocco last summer and became acutely aware of the social stigma that can be a hindrance to having healthier lives,” she said. “I think these are some of the least addressed issues in healthcare.”

Ben Dunlop, a second-year graduate student in public health at the UW, also focused on creating panels around neglected areas within global health – specifically, chronic disease and new challenges to providing HIV care in Africa.

“The student involvement is really nice,” he said. “I would be going to the conference either way, but it’s a great opportunity to help shape the agenda.”

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