Second Annual Public Health Summit

Policymakers, public health experts and leaders, as well as students, faculty and staff gathered at Milken Institute School of Public Health on Monday, October 23 for the Second Annual Public Health Summit. The half-day event featured engaging panel discussions on three of today’s most pressing public health issues: climate change, girls’ education and the threat of antibiotic resistance.

The afternoon kicked off with a keynote address by U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), who spoke about the extreme circumstances around climate change and why we can no longer wait to take serious action to counteract its effects. He emphasized the need for clean energy to reduce greenhouse gases, create more jobs and spur economic growth, and he discussed the importance of gaining the public’s support on climate change issues. “The power is with the people,” said Cardin, who is leading a group of senators to the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, next month.

He added that we need to communicate about climate change in a way that everyone can understand, and we can’t afford to get distracted on this issue. “Every day there’s another tweet and something new happens,” Cardin said. “We’ve got to say focused on this public health challenge.”

Cardin’s address led into the afternoon’s first panel: “The Climate: When Change Isn't a Good Thing,” featuring Sabrina McCormick, associate professor of environmental and occupational health, Bob Perkowitz, ecoAmerica's founder and president, and Frank Sesno, director of GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs, who moderated the discussion.

Perkowitz began the discussion by emphasizing the visible health effects of climate change. There are 220 session about climate change at the upcoming American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta, for example, and that is partially due to the health risks of climate change. McCormick said she is shocked that people don’t see the connections between climate change and their own health, despite solid scientific evidence.

When it comes to educating people about those effects, McCormick advised those in the audience to start small and educate themselves, too. The number of Americans believing in climate change is increasing, but messages should be targeted to specific audiences.

“Start with people and stay with people,” Perkowitz said. “Don’t talk about polar bears.” The personal effects of climate change are what will resonate most with the public.

During the afternoon’s second panel, “Girl Rising: The Future Global Treasure,” Amita N. Vyas, associate professor of prevention and community health, led a discussion with Christina Lowery, CEO of Girl Rising; Kate Roberts, co-founder of Maverick Collective and vice president of Population Services International; and Candi Wolff, executive vice president of global government affairs for Citi.

Panelists spoke about the gender gap in education around the world as well as the economic and social benefits of expanding girls’ access to education. Lowery said there's a "mountain of undeniable evidence" that educating girls is vital to ending poverty. Roberts supported this point by discussing the importance and close relationship between health and education to further female empowerment.

The panel also discussed the importance of partnerships, such as the one between Girl Rising and Citi, to support global initiatives, which allow for more expansion and outreach of educational programs worldwide.

Mike Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute, moderated the final panel, “Superbug Explosion: The Global Threat of Antibiotic Resistance.” Panelists included Lance Price, professor of environmental and occupational health and founding director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center; Everly Macario public health communications consultant and co-founder of the MRSA Research Center at the University of Chicago Medicine; and Bruce Stewart-Brown, senior vice president at Perdue Farms.

The theme of this panel was focused on the massive public health issues around antibiotic resistance, which stems from overuse of antibiotic drugs as well as consuming antibiotics via foods (example: chicken). Stewart-Brown spoke about how Perdue has eliminated antibiotic use over the last 15 years. By developing a “sensitive consumer radar” and committing to non-antibiotic-assisted production.

Macario shared the tragic story of her son’s death due to antibiotic resistance. Her personal narrative illustrated the human impact of this issue and how it can affect anyone, even those who are highly educated and well-versed on the issue. Macario has a doctorate in public health from Harvard University. She is now a spokesperson for "Supermoms Against Superbugs."

Price, meanwhile, spoke about a recently published report he co-authored that outlines the role of livestock in antibiotic resistance as well as makes policy recommendations for governments, food companies and other stakeholders to tackle this problem. “There’s no silver bullet,” he said. We need to be vocal consumers and vote with our dollars by purchasing foods without antibiotics in them to influence the market and encourage companies to change their policies.

The summit ended with closing remarks by GW President Thomas LeBlanc, who reiterated the importance of all of these public health challenges. Some of the most superb scientific thinking was discussed during the event, he said, thanking everyone for joining.

The following day, Dean Lynn Goldman and Bill Dietz, director of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, also took part in the Milken Institute Future of Health Summit. Dean Goldman was part of a panel discussing "The Future of Health: A New World of Collaboration," while Dietz discussed "Putting Prevention First" and the current pressing issues around the obesity epidemic during an afternoon panel discussion.