Published: 03/22/2021

Dr. Michele Barry, Director for the Center for Innovation in Global Health, set the tone for this year’s Consortium of Universities for Global Health conference with an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci that emphasized a global approach to the pandemic and refocusing on past efforts in global health. 

With what may be the most significant year in global health behind us, the 2021 Consortium of Universities for Global Health Conference marked a pivotal turning point in our outlook on health around the world. With Dr. Michele Barry at the helm of the event as Chair of the Board of Directors, the event pulled away from the often insular and focused national perspectives on the pandemic, emphasizing a global approach to COVID-19 while also serving as reminder to refocus on past initiatives too often forgone in the urgency of the pandemic. 

            This emphasis was immediately clear in the opening to the conference: an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci by Dr. Barry. Throughout his seemingly endless speaking engagements, Dr. Anthony Fauci is used to answering a fairly standardized list of questions about COVID-19, questions pertaining to the rapid-fire pace of updating national health guidelines and our constantly evolving understanding of the virus. Fauci struck a very different chord at CUGH though, responding to questions from Dr. Barry with a global perspective.

“When you have a global pandemic, you have to have a global response,” said Fauci, expanding his ordinarily national view to a global one. “This will have to go away for the entire planet before we can feel comfortable that we are out of danger.”

While many public health officials seem swayed by the optimism gripping the nation as infection numbers drop and vaccine rollout synchronizes and accelerates, Fauci seems preoccupied with the bigger picture, emphasizing the much-needed global approach to the pandemic.

Following the cancellation of the previous CUGH conference, the 2021 event was held virtually, but despite these limitations the online format allowed for record breaking attendance and representation with over 1,8oo attendees, a record breaking 30 satellite sessions, and over 700 poster abstracts, another record. 

Stanford University played a major role in the packed agenda as well, with 29 abstracts presented and six sessions featuring Stanford faculty and researchers. Alongside Dr. Barry’s varied roles, Stanford faculty and researchers delivered unique perspectives on global health throughout the event. Dr. Sherry Wren was featured in a multi-session convening that focused on equity in the global surgical healthcare ecosystem, while researcher Jacqueline Pei gave her perspectives at a session on remote advocacy for global health, a pressing concern during the pandemic. 

Of the many abstracts presented by Stanford researchers, maternal, child, and adolescent health was featured prominently, with presentations from Rishi MedirattaSafa Abdalla, Victoria WardXinshu SheDumisile MphambaKala Mehta, and Ashley Styczynski. Vulnerable population health was also pushed to the forefront of the conference by Stanford researchers, with unique solutions like those presented in “Youth Voices From an Informal Settlement of Nairobi: Engaging Adolescent Perspectives on Violence to Inform Prevention Interventions” and “Telemedicine in Primary Care for Underserved Communities in the Philippines.” Even Stanford medical students highlighted overlooked issues like planetary health, with Ashley Jowell presenting on learnings from the The NorCal Symposium on Climate & Pandemic Resilience.

Dr. Barry also used the wide-reaching virtual venue to refocus our communal efforts on decolonizing global health, a theme that has taken the back seat during COVID-19. Throughout the planning process she drove home the essential roles universities play in this cause, and spoke to what CUGH could do as a central coordinator. It was also a theme woven into the keynote interview with Dr. Fauci, who spoke to the effective role low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs) could play given the opportunity. 

With Barry’s prompting, he described a situation in which wealthy countries reach herd immunity through nation-wide vaccination campaigns. Meanwhile, low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs) toil on without the capability of controlling the virus through vaccination.

“What inevitably will occur is an immunological pressure among the people who get infected that leads to the evolution of different variants and lineages,” he said. “The variants are going to play a major role.”

Rather than creating a dynamic in which LMICs are purchasing vaccines and depending on high-income countries (HICs) for vaccine contributions, Fauci outlined a path forward in which HICs hand over the capacity to manufacture vaccines to LMICs, harkening back to similar policies he worked on during the AIDS crisis. 

Watch the full interview with Fauci above, and stay tuned to the CUGH website for more opportunities to engage.