Saturday, September 30, 2023

Struggling with back to school? Lost in trivia? Get focused and Go Global!

Dr Brendan O’Shea urges doctors to realise the benefits of being involved in the Irish Network for Global Health. It might, at least, keep you mind off mindless RTÉ scandal and trivia!

Though I’m writing in late August, this morning unfolded from what is clearly an early autumnal mist. The busyness and bustle of back to school is all around. Angst regarding Leaving Cert results has given way to the accommodation crisis for College and what-not.

For yourself, as you hunker down for another academic year, you might be giving some thought to how you might beef up your CPD Portfolio in the year ahead?

In this column, this month, we’re absolutely for Global Health!

Maybe I’m reacting to the extreme introspection of silly season weeks of ‘RTÉ/Tubridy,’ or the earlier brouhaha over a tiny handful of Asylum Seekers at Kilmaley in Co Clare, but we so need to get out of our own national backyard! Developing a special interest in global health, and building it into your own practice of medicine is a powerful antidote to becoming lost in the depressing triviality of what passes for ‘news’ in our narrowly focused ‘mainstream’ media.

Any effort you put into global health will deliver you a major payback. If you were tempted by this, an excellent place to start is the Irish Network for Global Health (IGHN) (

Established in 2004, the IGHN is a creative and energetic agency that clearly has form. It is multisectoral, and is concerned with addressing inequality as it plays out in population and community health outcomes, viewed from a global perspective. Medics and nurses are especially welcome at IGHN.

The IGHN is engaged in networking Irish Global Healthcare Professionals and agencies, connecting them with each other, and with international counterparts, sharing experiences, expertise, relevant research and creating a more cohesive Global Health Community in Ireland.

It’s very easy to belong – log on to the website, subscribe to the newsletter, and consider participating in any of the many online and in person events run by the IGHN, throughout the year. The Global Health crowd are very chummy and easy to get on with. You might just have an incipient interest that needs a little watering – you might have had some previous experience, perhaps an old student elective, or you may be already actively engaged in a project.

If you are involved in teaching undergraduates or your own specialty trainees, you might explore IGHN with your students, and what it has to offer you and them during the year – students and trainees are especially welcome at IGHN, and they may greatly enjoy the experience !

IGHN activities
A quick look through will open up a wide range of activities and events during the next year in which you could get involved. On October 24, there is a one-day highly interactive event at Richmond Barracks in Dublin (a ten-minute walk from Heuston Station), including 15 short interactive talks on a range of GH projects and experiences, two Skills Workshops, and the Global Health Village, which is an interactive series of stations, each detailing the key partners and collaborative agencies that can be helpful and relevant in terms of project design, support and funding.

Previously based in the RCSI and more recently in Trinity, the IGHN has always taken a keen interest in Undergraduates, and includes a very energetic Student Outreach Program, where participants can avail of elective and internship placements, gaining experience in Conference Management and Social Media Skills – as well as a closer understanding of the nuts and bolts of running good global health projects.

Sneak podcast preview
Hot off the press at the IGHN Website is the first in their latest and newest Podcast Series ‘Better Health for a Better World.’ In this first episode, the focus is on Ethiopia, and IGHN CEO Nadine Ferris France is speaking with Her Excellency Nicola Brennan, Irish Ambassador to Ethiopia, and with consular responsibility for South Sudan and Djibouti.

They are joined by Marie McGrath, Technical Director at the Emergency Nutrition Network, and Dr Jared, who is with Save the Children in Ethiopia. Ambassador Brennan outlines the long and effective track record that exists between Ireland and Ethiopia, which she dates back to the UN support of Ireland and of Éamon De Valera, for Ethiopia, as far back as 1935, speaking out against the emergent totalitarian fascist Italian State. Then there is our huge cultural heritage of famine in both countries.

If you have been distracted during the summer by trivia such as RTÉ/Tubridy, are you aware, that at present, 270,000 children under five years are dying of malnutrition in Ethiopia each year? The Ethiopian state is grappling to respond to climate change, political instability and serious food insecurity.

Ambassador Nicola Brennan

Ambassador Nicola Brennan, who heads Ireland’s largest Embassy, in Ethiopia

You might be pleased to understand that close to €40 million is contributed by you and Irish Aid, and the Irish embassy at Ethiopia is a key administrative point for this, directing funds and nurturing partnerships between Irish NGOs and Universities with Ethiopian counterparts, in order to bring evidence-based programs to the districts most profoundly affected by drought, flooding and political instability.

Malnutrition is clearly associated with >50 per cent of the staggering child mortality. Flooding disrupts food supply, medical services, and pushes up rates of malaria. Marie McGrath highlights the importance of a focus on children of less than six months as being particularly vulnerable, a view that is backed by research, both in terms of this being a correct strategic choice, and with respect to the correct interventional responses at the system level.

The research is ongoing, with a large-scale study currently underway examining efficacy of interventions involving the Emergency Nutrition Network, GOAL, The London School of Tropical Medicine and several University Departments and NGOs in Ethiopia. This is a focused partnership, on the needs of babies, prospective mothers (antenatal care) and mothers.

‘All of our activities are conducted in a framework of Gender Equality Policy,’ observes her Excellency, Nicola Brennan, ‘and we have actively shifted away from a woman-focused policy to a gender transformative approach in these last years.’

Dr Jared, working with Save the Children, observes that caloric deficiency is only part of the challenge, with micronutrient deficiencies a major problem. Iron-deficient mothers are far more susceptible to obstetric complications, and anaemic children (particularly those under six months) are more susceptible to complications from all causes as a result of their anemia. At the other end of the scale, cheap high glycaemic diets are powering a large increase in Non-Communicable Diseases, now emerging as a leading cause of premature morbidity and mortality in Low and Middle Income Countries.

You don’t have to travel to be an active Global Practitioner, or to include some Global Health in your medical career. At the very least, we can all understand that Global Health will come to our own services, given the inexorable rising numbers of refugees in Ireland with each passing year.

Many of our Postgraduate Training Colleges have Global Health Committees or Groups within them, and so there are many ways to become usefully and essentially involved. In my limited experience, the rewards for becoming involved are large, frequently unexpected, and greatly pay back multiples of any effort you put in. Even if you only gain a renewed and practical appreciation for the great good fortune of living and practicing medicine in a society as affluent, secure and imperfectly democratic as ours, your taking a foray into Global Health is a great investment.

Prof. Brendan O’Shea is a member of Irish Doctors Supporting MAiD, and has previously served on the Board of the Irish Hospice Foundation.

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