Seven Calls to Action: Encouraging SYPs to shift society towards a healthier future amidst COVID

Written by: Danielle Agnello (Executive Director, GHMe), Shakira Choonara (Mentor, GHMe), Chris Jenkins (Global Health Researcher), Rosemary James (Irish Global Health Network, previous GHMe SYP); and Ciaran Mooney (Irish Global Health Network)


No one can deny that the turn of the decade has been a challenging one. Across the whole of society, COVID-19 has dominated the past year. Large multilateral agencies, national governments, donors, universities and research institutions, academic journals, the media and civil society organizations have shifted their focus to the pandemic. While experiencing numerous personal challenges, students and young health professionals (SYPs) will have to adapt to the rapidly changing global health landscape.


While the world has understandably pivoted to the enormous and immediate task of controlling COVID-19, we cannot let this tidal wave prevent us from seeing the tsunami on the horizon. We have less than a decade to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. As young and future global health professionals, we can contribute to these ambitious goals by focusing on Healthy People's vision on a Healthy Planet. To achieve this, we must tackle a multitude of challenges by evolving ourselves and becoming more resilient while shifting society towards a new, healthier paradigm.


How can young health professionals drive necessary changes?

The COVID-19 pandemic can be a catalyst for a healthier future. It has already forced us to change how we live, the way we work, and how we communicate. Now, it’s our responsibility to lead in the necessary adaptation so we can build a socially just and ecologically sound future. We can achieve this by focusing on what we call the seven calls to action:

Source: Danielle Agnello


1. Think beyond Health One of the most important lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic is the usefulness of working together on problems that affect the entire human race. Lessons from COVID-19 emphasize the importance and impact of engaging all stakeholders across sectors. Never before has there been a clearer intersection between water, sanitation and hygiene, hunger, economics, transportation, and gender. A crisis of this magnitude highlights the importance of implementing solution-oriented, collaborative, co-owned actions. For instance, adaptation to the COVID-19 era involves new strategies of advocacy and building partnerships, including government agencies. From an undergraduate level, we should learn to communicate and collaborate across disciplines enabling us to face challenges effectively and sustainably.


2. Expand your knowledge

In order to Think beyond Health, we need to explore and seek an understanding of the interaction between health and a multitude of other sectors. For instance, managing COVID-19 effects requires us to understand human behaviour and its wider economic context. Learning has been enhanced by the shift of conferences and closed meetings to an online space. While there is definite webinar fatigue - never before have information and spaces opened wider, giving us more opportunity to learn and engage.


3. Participatory Community Engagement

The importance of understanding and engaging at the community level has once again proven to be key in ensuring public trust and effective policy implementation. Communities are often poorly involved in the planning and implementation of interventions, yet their commitment is fundamental to control outbreaks and adherence. During the COVID-19 pandemic, social and behavioural change has been driven by communities and community leaders pushing for physical distancing and coming together for relief measures (e.g. anti-hunger initiatives in South Africa and curbing religious or community gatherings). In this way, communities have shown that they are not passive recipients but the coalface of all implementation efforts. We must continue to push for ethical, locally-driven research and practice, for instance, through supporting grassroots initiatives and pushing for social science to understand cultures and beliefs respectfully.


4. Build Bridges

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic should rely on translating rapidly emerging research into timely, evidence-informed policy and practice. In this way, COVID-19 highlights how vital bridging the work of academics and policy-makers truly is. Researchers are increasingly aware of the importance of talking to policy-makers. Furthermore, we’ve seen the capacity of some governments to act quickly and decisively to address a health issue. This has highlighted the power of the state and how political health really is. For instance, in Spain, private hospitals have been nationalized, Denmark provided salary subsidies to citizens prohibited from working, and many countries have invested in cycling lanes as alternative transport. Let us capitalize on this remarkable shift in priorities to advocate for governments, the private sector, and academia to apply the same willpower to the many other global health issues.


5. Digitalization is here!

COVID-19 increased the pace of digital transformation with further expansion in e-commerce and an increase in the pace of adoption of telemedicine, videoconferencing, remote working, online teaching, and fintech. Digitalization is also being utilized for fighting the virus through the digitalization of surveillance, testing, and the adoption of mobile technologies to collect data on patient-reported symptoms and contact tracing. We must sharpen our skills and lead the way when it comes to utilizing or implementing these emerging and vital technologies while remembering to consider the ethical implications and health impacts of increased digitalization.

Source: Danielle Agnello


6. Fight for Failure

This pandemic has highlighted the importance of adaptable innovations, and it has been proven that failure can lead to innovation. Ask Alexander Flemming – without his ‘careless’ ways; we would not have penicillin. Google also created an official place for learning from failure with the use of a postmortem process. And, who could not be drawn to the “Church of Fail,” where people are encouraged to celebrate their failures and learn from them. Global health is in desperate need of adaptable change, innovation and creativity, so we encourage you to fight to create a space in your organization or university to allow failure.

Source: Danielle Agnello


7. Be a Climate Activist Do we, as health professionals, need to also be planetary health activists? We say YES. This pandemic has brought further damaging effects on the environment. From increasing human-animal interactions due to deforestation, worsening air quality, increased food insecurity, limited access to safe drinking water, and the emergence of tropical diseases in warming climates. Let’s work rapidly toward mitigation and adaptation collectively by aligning ourselves with climate activists to raise awareness about the vital links between health and climate change - if we are to secure a healthy future for future generations to come.


Moving Forward

Our calls to action are highly interlinked, and in many ways, represent a mindset as much as a checklist, leading the way and at the same time crafting accountability within our generation. It is going to be no easy feat. Still, if we can leverage the possibilities collectively, we can substantially activate the reset button in a way that benefits people and the planet sustainably.

Source: Danielle Agnello


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Thank you to colleagues for your valuable perspective. For any inquiries related to the GHMe Blog, please contact our team at globalhealthmentorships@gmail.com




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