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April 9th saw me sitting in the main lecture theatre in Biomedicum waiting for the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. To say I was a little bit excited would be an understatement. I was positively unsettled in my seat at the prospect of seeing one of the most influential figure heads of our time, the leader of the WHO!
The preceding week’s conference, was meant to see Dr. Tedros grace the stage with his presence, instead he kindly sent over a recorded video message apologising for his inability to be there. He’s a busy man, that’s understandable. Yet, in little over a week he accepted an invitation to continue the conversation on, “Research and Higher Education for Health in the Context of UN Agenda 2030”. In other words, how can the Sustainable Development Goals be woven in to the fabric of research and tertiary education.
Following, a heartfelt welcome from Dr. Tedros’ fellow collaborator, KI’s President Ole Petter Ottersen, Dr. Tedros addressed the convention. He had a very pragmatic, measured and logical way of relaying what he felt were the salient points on the topic. He made it clear that the goal of academic research is not for academic prestige but to change the world. There was a balance to be struck between the ideological score and action. One of his core messages, which stemmed from his own research in public health on malaria transmission in northern Ethiopia and experience as a minister of health. He emphasised that whilst we in global and public health work on the community level; we are not only making a population wide change, but we must not forget the individual in all we do either.
“Talent is universal, opportunity is not.” ~ Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
The purpose of the lecture was to provide an opportunity to pose questions and express challenges faced by those in the audience and experts in their field working at KI. Questions came from two of our very own digital ambassadors (DAs – Anne Flint and Tianqi ‘Charles’ Zhang); a panel that included professors of psychiatry, suicidology, obstetrics and gynaecology, psychology, molecular tumour biology, the head of the WHO collaborative centre for research on health care in disasters and a professor of social medicine, all working and lecturing at KI. Questions ranged from the challenges of placing oral healthcare on the agenda to making mental health in Asia and Africa (as well as elsewhere) a priority. These questions were answered with humility and genuinely. Dr. Tedros was open about the constraints faced by the WHO, but very clear to make sure the improvements that have been made in recent history such as the response times to disasters were highlighted.
Time was not on his side and before we knew it, he was whisked off to lunch with a growing entourage and his security detail.
However, you don’t have to only rely on my written word, why not check out this video of our DAs and Dr. Tedros in action.