Global Health Histories expands to Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean

Posted on 8 May 2014

The popular seminar series takes place for the first time in Cairo with an event on the public health implications of mass gatherings

May 2014 saw the Global Health Histories Seminar series expand to the Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO) of the World Health Organization. The topic was on Public Health Implications of Mass Gatherings. Over 50 staff including the Regional Director were in attendance at the event held in the Kuwait Conference Hall. The seminar was chaired by Dr Jaouad Mahjour who in his opening remarks explained that the mission of the Global Health Histories Seminar is based on the principle that understanding the history of health, especially during the last 60 years, helps the global public health community to respond to the challenges of today. He said “there are many lessons in global health that need to be shared and understood to help avoid the same mistakes”.

The first speaker, Professor Lauren Minsky of the New York University Abu Dhabi Campus spoke about the social determinants of global health in relation to the Hajj. She surveyed the historical origins of  this long-distance pilgrimage and mass gathering and how originally it was seen as an event which overall benefited health specially for the poorer pilgrims. She considered how these changed under the influence of the Ottoman, British, and Dutch empires where the threat to health and epidemics became the major health concern and subsequently under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Professor Minsky concluded by reflecting on what the history of the Hajj can teach those working in the field of global health security today.

The second speaker was Dr Maurizio Barbeschi, from the Geneva office of the World Health Organization. He spoke about mass gatherings as highly visible events that present challenges and opportunities to host countries and the wider international health community. He explained how for more than a decade now, WHO has helped countries to prepare better to prevent public health emergencies from occurring, help countries manage if they do happen and ensure a long-term health legacy from the planning efforts. After the seminar he said that it was “truly interesting, well attended and thought provoking”.

The Coordinator of the Global Health history series, Dr Hooman Momen pointed out that “this seminar was the 78th in the Global Health Histories series making it one of WHO’s longest running public seminar series”. He said that “this was only the second time that such a seminar had been held in a regional office”. Professor Minsky was delighted with her participation and said “I would be honoured to help organize GHH seminars on topics of interest to EMRO in the future”. Organisation of the event was a collaboration between the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories based in York, the New York University Abu Dhabi, and the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean. The event would not have been possible without generous support received from the Wellcome Trust, a major, Britain-based global charitable foundation.

The series continues in May with a seminar on Nepal: Primary Health Care, Universal Health Coverage and Foreign Aid, held at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. The Global Health Histories seminar series is a collaboration between the World Health Organization Department of Knowledge Management and Sharing and the Centre for Global Health Histories (CGHH), part of the Department of History and a constituent member of Humanities Research Centre at the University of York, generously funded by the Wellcome Trust.