Student Reactions to CUGH 2019

Each year, the Consortium for Universities in Global Health (CUGH) hosts their annual conference, uniting global health practitioners from around the world in discussions of global health issues. CUGH’s 2019 conference, “Translation & Implementation for Impact in Global Health”, was held in Chicago and co-sponsored by Northwestern University, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

A few GHS undergrads were able to attend the conference and hear from doctors, journalists, researchers, educators, and international aid workers. Below are reactions from students on moments that were particularly impactful over the course of the weekend.



I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to attend CUGH, it was definitely an experience I will never forget. Perhaps my favorite part of the consortium was the Pulitzer film festival that took place Thursday night. I was lucky enough to apply and get a free ticket to the video showcase. When I first arrived, I signed in and started talking to many of the other people there. Most of the people I talked to were professors who were studying maternal health. They also were heading to the festival and we walked up together. Initially, I felt very out of place because I was the youngest student there. 

However, when the presentation began, I felt instantly at home. A woman from the Pulitzer center in D.C. began the talk by explaining how they fund individuals to make short documentaries all over the world. In fact, they often work with the Medill School of Journalism, right here at Northwestern.

I have no words to describe the short-films I saw. They were inspiring, emotion jerking, and just plain real. The topics discussed included a wide range, from the leather industry in Bangladesh to the Indonesian War on Drugs. After the films were over, we even got to have a Q&A session with one of the directors. In her video, she discussed life inside Yemen and even visited a ship that was trapped for two weeks out at sea because there was no place to dock. It was an amazing experience seeing the woman on the screen right in front of me.

Over the next few days, I was lucky enough to talk and network with some of the smartest people I have ever met. The best is when I found common ground with women and men alike from completely different countries, all through global health. I am so honored that I was able to go to CUGH 2019 and hope students are given the chance again in the future.

–Sydney Bernstein (McCormick)

I am so very grateful to have had a chance to attend this year’s CUGH conference. It was amazing to be in the room with some of the same authors and researchers who have contributed to some of my favorite articles. I was able to explore  subfields of global health that my education had not really exposed me to yet. My favorite panel was Gun Violence in the Americas. Gun violence is always a difficult subject to talk about, but this discussion was necessary to see how gun violence is actually a health epidemic, not just a policy crisis. Learning about the role that the United States plays in fueling the gun epidemics in countries other than our own— because of our intense gun production and smuggling industry—

just provided more insight into how big of a public health crisis the American gun violence epidemic is. The panel dove into the fact that gun violence is not just a health problem in the toll it takes in emergency rooms, but also in the impacts it has on the mental health of entire populations. 

This panel helped me to engage with the overlap between health issues and political crises. I hope to be able to take everything I learned at the conference into the classroom for the rest of my time at Northwestern, as both an undergraduate and as an MPH student. These lessons are very applicable for me to use to make a difference in the real world. 

–Amanda Rosner (WCAS)

One breakout that I found particularly fascinating during the CUGH conference was a debate between Stephen Luby, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, and Agnes Soucat, the Director for Health Systems at the World Health Organization. The pair were debating a resolution that stated the global health field should be prioritizing existential threats over more proximate health concerns.

Going into the session, I was not sure where I stood on the resolution nor did I fully understand its implications. However, as I listened to these leaders in their fields express the fears they have regarding the future of healthcare, I became extremely invested in prevention. For example, Luby believes in focusing on existential threats because it is his understanding that if humanity follows its “cataclysmic trajectory”, our species will be extinct by 2100 due to potential threats such as ecological destruction and climate change, synthetic biology, and nuclear war. On the other hand, Soucat believes in prioritizing proximate health concerns such as pandemics and adjusting human behavior because focusing simply on existential crises takes away from that of the individual.

While I found both of their arguments very compelling, I was actually most struck by a member of the audience who shared their input during the Q&A portion of the debate. This person said that addressing existential threats and addressing present threats actually go hand in hand; therefore, the resolution was really a moot point. They used the example of decreasing coal usage to illustrate their stance: if we decrease our coal usage, then air pollution will decrease, which helps prevent ecological disaster and health complications from lung irritation. This action is working towards both existential threats and proximate health concerns. In response, Soucat mentioned the importance of consideration of equity. That is, these goals can only be accomplished through coalition and said coalition cannot be achieved without equity first. No country nor individual will commit to a proposal without a feeling of validation and equitable treatment as indicated by the Yellow Vest Protests in France. When the French government attempted to skyrocket gas taxes as an incentive against fossil fuels, the suburban and rural areas violently protested such a change as inequitable: since these people rely on their cars for travel and the wealthier urban dwellers do not, they did not feel as though the wealthy were making the same sacrifices for the climate change efforts as they were asked to do. The proposal ultimately failed. From these words I began to understand that regardless of whether a threat is existential or proximate is not really the main focus in determining a solution. The focus must be on collective and collaborative action that leads to the building of equitable institutions and a shared common destiny. I am currently planning on pursuing a career in health policy analysis so these sorts of revelations are extremely valuable to me. I find that social determinants of health and equity are just as important as economical and logistical considerations when shaping policy, and this debate simply made this concept less abstract and more concrete . I am extremely grateful to have been able to hear such influential scholars in the global health field speak both during this session as well as the other breakouts.

–Emma Latz (WCAS)

On Friday evening, I attended a session co-organized by the Pulitzer Center and Global Health NOW called, “How to Tell Your Global Health Story”. The event gathered a diverse panel of veterans in the field of public health, a physician-journalist, and an award-winning science journalist. The intersection of medicine and journalism has taken me years to navigate, but this panel clarified just how inextricably connected these domains are. It was empowering to be in a roomful of people who believe in advocating for patients and recognize storytelling as a way to do so. This snippet of my weekend at CUGH is fairly emblematic of the whole conference: it celebrated the multidisciplinarity of global health. The diversity of backgrounds, ages, and disciplines that gathered in Chicago for the 10th Annual  Conference is a statement in and of itself. One of my favorite conference pastimes was perusing the Research Exposition. These projects—ranging from investigating the utility of South African Triage scale for predicting emergency room outcomes in Ghana to assessing primary care capacity for cardiometabolic disease prevention in Vietnam—opened my eyes to what issues are most pressing in today’s global health landscape. I was amazed by the various forms of methodology employed by these researchers, as well as the scale of these undertakings.

As a graduating senior, entering the professional world of “global health” is a bit of a mystery. The field is rapidly growing, and I’m still learning how I will eventually fit into it. Indispensable to my global health journey has been Northwestern’s Global Health Studies department, which has supported me so much over the years. Opportunities to attend conferences like CUGH have given me more clarity on what I envision my future in global health to look like.

–Courtney Zhu (Medill)

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