Friday, December 1, 2023

The Irish Global Health Network conference report – still relevant in the age of webinars!

Dr Brendan O’Shea attended the recent IGHNx – an event that draws a capacity crowd and aspires to educate Irish-based doctors on world healthcare

‘Why would anybody read a conference report in 2023?’ I hear you mutter. That’s a fair question, in this age of podcasts, webinars, and all the varieties of e-learning available on the one hand. On the other hand, when the conference is run by the Irish Global Health Network, and given their track record, and the characteristic thought put into conference design and content, we can definitely make a case for a report on IGHNx ‘23.

Further, by the time you are reading this, much of the key content from the conference detailed below will be available to view on

Given accelerating instability around the world, and even during the last two months, the need for us in Ireland to have a well developed perspective on global health has never been greater. IGHNx ’23 was held at Richmond Barracks (a wonderful venue for a medium sized conference), at Inchicore, on October 24.

It was themed on Humanity and Health. ‘Among other things, we wanted to provide a strong platform for a range of minorities, bearing in mind that global society, in key respects, is composed of minorities,’ observed Nadine Ferris France, CEO at Irish Global Health Network.

At the heart of this year’s conference were 15 short presentations delivered by a balanced panel of speakers. ‘We were broadly following the Ted X formula as the basis for the presentations, which sat well with our presenters,’ observed Nadine. In keeping with all IGHN conferences and activities, there was a strong strand of creativity running throughout, and the programme featured live music performances and poetry readings.

The capacity audience included registered medical practitioners, together with a range of undergraduates, academics and activists in global health, based in Ireland and abroad. If you are of the view that global health is only of interest to practitioners who intend travelling or otherwise working abroad, you couldn’t be more wrong about that.

Inevitably there will be increasing numbers of refugees, particularly along the north-south axis, and the Middle East, coming to Ireland, in the decade ahead. This is a near certainty, due to the combined effects of political and climate instability.

If you’re working in healthcare in Ireland, taking an interest in global health now will make it easier for you to better understand the background, and respond to the needs of different refugee groups arriving on your service.

Separate to that is the broader humanitarian perspective, that as committed healthcare professionals, it is critically important that we understand where people have come from, understand their experiences, and be well and better positioned to act as advocates in our very affluent society, on their behalf.

Many of the keynote presentations were couched in what are among the most important current challenges in global health, and communicated with personal perspectives and lived experience. Elizabeth Zion, currently completing an MSc at UL reflected powerfully on the experience of herself and her own family, of being made homeless when she was aged 14.

Thandolwenkosi Sibindi reflected on the phenomenon of gender based violence as a global, societal and particularly a family-based experience, asserting that in many instances, GBV still remains a silent and largely invisible phenomenon.

Eric O’Flynn (RCSI Ireland) reflected on the challenges in further extending the availability of safe surgical care in a global context, noting that globally, over five billion people currently do not have safe surgical care.

In practical terms this means that ‘simple’ surgical procedures (caesarean sections, appendectomies and hernia repairs) carry a far higher rate of complication and mortality than we in the Global North view and experience them, where they are utterly taken for granted.

In particular, he reflected on the experience at RCSI, including COSECSA and the RCSI Institute for Global Surgery during the last 15 years, with particular reference to effective collaboration.

In this he particularly addressed the challenges for ‘Global North’ collaborators, and the need for them to stand right back, as a critical matter of respect and practicality, to properly enable ‘Global South’ collaborators to fully engage in the design, development and delivery of their own essential surgical training.

Niamh Caffrey (Nutritionist) on Acute and Chronic malnutrition, with particular reference to the Democratic Republic of Congo, observed that over 800 million people currently experience acute malnutrition on an ongoing daily basis.

Concluding this riveting IGHNx Series, Eunice Phillip reflected on the importance of humanity in all that we do, and in every patient contact, as healthcare practitioners, caring for people who are in extremely vulnerable circumstances.

Music, poetry and housekeeping
“At IGHNx ’23, as in all our other main conferences and events, we believe that a strong strand of performing arts is invaluable – it powerfully opens hearts and minds, which in turn enables a more complete sharing of knowledge and experience for all involved,” observed Nadine Ferris France, CEO at IGHN.

“The evidence we are considering in key respects is extremely challenging and harrowing; our previous experience tells us that our delegates really appreciate and benefit from a vibrant input from the performing arts.”

Located in the restored Richmond Barracks at Inchicore, the entire event ran smoothly throughout. Key to this included the IGHN Student Outreach Team, who were on hand throughout, all exceptionally helpful, and in between assisting delegates and speakers, were clearly attuned to all of the presentations as the day unfolded.

(Any medical students you are working with can be usefully signposted to the IGHNx Student Outreach Team for practical involvement, including a range of internships, project work and electives in Global Health).

The concert was opened with two songs from Eimear Crehan, from Kilcock and abroad. Kestine, who self-describes as ‘Black Irish from Cork,’ delivered some powerful rapping, and had delegates rocking in the aisles.

Sean Collins from Donabate in Dublin performed one of his own songs to a spellbound audience, themed on young adult isolation and anxiety. The programme ran through then day with ample opportunity to network and make new friends, as well as reconnecting with the older ones.

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

The Irish Global Health Network, frequently operating with ESTHER Ireland, run a very varied series of activities and events throughout the academic year. They are totally worth keeping an eye on, both for your own interest, and any Students, Trainee or Team Members you are engaged with.

The best way to do this is to subscribe to the IGHN Newsletter at IGHN has been operating in Ireland and abroad for over 20 years, and is supported by Irish Global Aid. It’s all too good and too important to miss!

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