War causes more death and disability than many major diseases combined yet receives little attention as a public health problem. Because of war’s profound impact on health, the Eighth Annual Western Regional International Health Conference being held at the University of Washington April 23-25 is on “War & Global Health: Transforming Our Profession, Changing Our World.”
The student-led conference is being hosted by the University of Washington’s Department of Global Health in conjunction with Physicians for Social Responsibility, a Nobel Peace Prize winning organization that works to protect human life from the greatest threats to health and survival.
The conference will feature journalist Chris Hedges, author of War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, as keynote speaker. In 2002, he shared the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism for his work on terrorism while at The New York Times, and he is quoted in the Academy-Award winning film “The Hurt Locker.”
The purpose of this conference is to shift the perspective on global health to include war and armed conflict as one of the most significant—and preventable—threats to health around the world and provide tools for practitioners to act accordingly.
“War can and should be approached as a public health problem,” said Rebecca Bartlein, MPHc, the lead student organizer of the conference.
Just as tobacco use moved from accepted practice to public health problem, war and conflict are beginning to be viewed not as inevitable, but as health problems that require intervention, said Amy Hagopian, PhD, UW assistant professor of Global Health.
“War leaves no area of health care or public health practice untouched,” said Hagopian. “Maternal and child health, reproductive health, mental health, environmental health and nutrition are all degraded by war.”
Conference organizers say the destruction of health infrastructure, loss of health workers and contamination of the environment directly affect the health of populations, while the diversion of resources to building weapons and waging war depletes funds that could otherwise be spent on improving health.
UW assistant professor of Psychiatry Dr. Evan Kanter, immediate past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a psychiatrist at the Veteran’s Hospital, said the toll of war, both physical and psychological, is greater than ever.
“Health professionals have a critical role in preventing war and mitigating the devastating health consequences of armed conflict,” he said.
The conference is sponsored by the University of Washington, Physicians for Human Rights, Washington Global Health Alliance, Global Health Council, Center for Global Studies and Health Alliance International.
Co-sponsors include: San Diego State University, Graduate School of Public Health; Simon Fraser University; Stanford University, Office of Global Health; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Washington Bothell; University of Washington Tacoma; School for Global Animal Health, Washington State University; Western Washington University; University of California, Berkeley Center for Global Public Health; University of Alaska Anchorage; Seattle University, Schools of Nursing and Law; Seattle Central Community College; Global Health Center and Global Health Alliance, Oregon Health & Science University; University of British Columbia, Liu Institute for Global Issues.
For more information, go to www.wrihc.org.