Conducting a Symphony- The Prince Mahidol Awards Conference
The Prince Mahidol Awards Conference (PMAC) is held each January in Bangkok, Thailand, in honor of its namesake who is revered as the country’s father of public health. This year, nearly 1000 professionals from academia, government, NGOs, and private industry convened to discuss One Health cross-sectoral approaches in fighting infectious diseases. PMAC was attended by several people from the University of Minnesota, including GIFSL director Dr. Will Hueston, veterinary public health resident Dr. Cara Cherry, and Associate Dean for Education and Global Affairs Debra Olson of the School of Public Health.
The majority of the conference involved discussions on One Health implementation and generating
policy recommendations. Hueston was invited to facilitate a session on developing a One Health workforce, meaning that educational priorities in universities should correspond to well-rounded skill sets that employers need. Another session, led by physician and former Google philanthropic director Larry Brilliant, addressed the power of technology to prevent disease through crowd sourcing. Hueston believes that such lessons in One Health implementation are especially valuable for policy-making stakeholders. “Policymakers need to know science so they can make good decisions on science and health. People often think they have to give something up rather than combining expertise on the things that concern us. This is a challenge that One Health needs to combat.” Olson appreciated the liveliness of the conversations. “Everything talked about has impact on what I'm doing personally, that was the exciting part. We weren't caught up in definitions, but the actual One Health actions.” Hueston and Philemon
Will Hueston, DVM, with Philemon Wambura, Dean of the Veterinary College at Sokoine University in Tanzania, in front of a wall on which PMAC participants recorded their personal reflections.
Another vital component of PMAC was experiential learning, which allowed participants to see the One Health approach in practice. Cherry fondly recalls a field trip she took to a village north of Bangkok. She was introduced to a local man who constructs larvae traps of recycled plastic water bottles, thus preventing the spread of dengue fever. “Sometimes we discount people without a formal education,” says Dr. Cherry. “But it’s important to see what communities are doing instead of maintaining the ‘outside aid’ mindset.”
The University of Minnesota’s attendees were impressed not only by the cross-disciplinary collaboration at PMAC, but that the participants represented 73 countries. The forging of strategic relationships between nations can allow for mutual assistance and a richness of perspectives when public health problems emerge. Cherry says, “We’re not isolated anymore. We need international camaraderie.” Olson adds that in addressing public health issues, “we [in the public health sector] can’t play solo. We must conduct a symphony.”