Information, Inspiration, & Equality: Reflections from the American Public Health Association 2015 Conference

by Nikhil D. Patil, MPH

In early November, I joined 12,000 of my fellow public health colleagues in Chicago, Illinois for the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA). APHA is a venue for public health professionals and leaders from around the world to discuss and share evidence and strategies for improving the health of populations, domestically and abroad. The theme for the 143rd meeting was “Health in all Policies,” highlighting the impact of where someone lives, works, learns, and plays on their ability to live a healthy life. The event focused on how we can create policies at community, state, and federal levels to ensure the scale and sustainability of public health interventions. 

Dr. Vivek Murthy, MD, MPA, the US Surgeon General reflected on this theme in his opening plenary saying “health has to be woven into every strand of public policy,” reminding all attendees that we must all step up and be the leaders that our world needs. He spoke of three elements at the heart of public health leadership: information, inspiration, and equality. First, public health needs to adapt to changing information platforms and identify the best avenues for communicating health messages. The information we communicate matters, but how we communicate that information is just as important and will require that public health modernizes its approach to reaching people through relevant channels. Second, information is not always sufficient to change behavior. Inspired messages through innovative platforms are necessary to increase people’s agency and empower them to live healthier lives. Finally, equity is central to public health practice and in order to remove inequality, every life has to been seen as valuable. 

He is hopeful about public health and the progress we’ve made in the field, saying “this is how we will change the world together: by modernizing how we share information; by finding ways to inspire and support people in their pursuit of health; and by ensuring we are creating a world that is grounded in equality, a world where opportunity is available to all.” I can’t think of a statement that is more reflective of the values eHealth Africa holds as an organization.

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Responding to this year’s theme, I was in attendance to present a poster on behalf of my Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Monitoring, Evaluation, and Research (MER) colleagues. Titled “Mapping telecommunications coverage at public health facilities in Northern Nigeria,” the presentation focused on equitable mobile coverage being necessary to support mobile and electronic-health interventions, particularly in low-resource settings. The poster discussed a GIS-enabled methodology for modeling estimates of telecommunications coverage at public health facilities across Kano State, mapping two out of the four mobile network operators in Kano. The modeling methodology used a radio frequency approach and required location coordinates for cell towers and public health facilities; results estimated an overall low telecommunications coverage at health facilities across Kano. A methodology useful for program planners of mobile health programs, we advocated for the role that governments can play in developing policies to encourage improved mobile network infrastructure to support mHealth programs across the state, in partnership with the private sector telecommunications industry. 

eHA’s poster fit under APHA’s “Health Informatics & Information Technology” (HIIT) poster and presentation section. The accompanying poster presentation I gave was well-received. Several of the HIIT attendees requested additional information and connections with eHA and our services, which I look forward to following-up. Overall, the conference was well organized, although a bit hectic due to multiple, simultaneous meetings and presentations making it difficult to see and meet everyone. However, I left the conference excited about the advancements that my fellow public health colleagues were making to improve the health of populations around the world, and inspired to share some of what I learned with my colleagues back in Nigeria.

Nikhil D. Patil is the Monitoring, Evaluation, & Research Department Manager for eHealth Africa and is based in Kano, Nigeria. You can follow him on Twitter & Instagram (@npatil55).