Grand Challenges Canada Conference

The 18th Grand Challenges annual meeting took place, end of October, from 23rd 22 through 26th 22. The meeting commenced with a global challenge exercise led by Anita Cicero and Tom Inglesby, followed by a welcome reception.

On the 24th, Bill Gates in his keynote address delineated, by what means our response to COVID-19 pandemic could play a vital role in fighting other endemic diseases like HIV, TB, and malaria. The comeback is a paradigm shift in our perspectives on vaccines, diagnosis, and drugs. Afterwards, I went on to attend a two day scientific track on mental health named, “Developing Contextually Appropriate, Youth-Led Solutions for Mental Health System Change: Gaps, Lesson Learned and Future Opportunities.” The track gave invaluable insights into the lived experiences of youth suffering from mental illness and facing stigma. It also spread light on ‘ultimate goal of system change strategies, and discussed observations from India’s first Policymakers Forum for Mental Health,  to identify the next steps to drive impact and incorporate social and political contexts in our approach.

I, then,  attended another scientific track, “Novel Approaches to Reduce The Impacts of Climate Change on Health” organized by Boston University. This track focused on innovation and other key issues encountered by the world population in light of climate change. The track provided critical insights into climate change and how it endangers global health. In the second part, innovators fighting climate change shared their endorsed strategies and methods to effect an impact and drive change. The most important takeaway from this was a sense of community and commitment to do better. The innovations shared are powerful enough to change the current landscape of climate change-related problems, if applied in synergy. Lastly, I attended another scientific track on “Beyond the First 1000 Days: Research and Implementation Innovations For Women And Girls’ Nutrition” organized by Bill and Malinda Gates foundation. The track furthered their long-standing goal of improving maternal and child health outcomes. It emphasized the importance of nutrition in adolescent girls and took us on a deep dive into the biology and metabolism in adolescent girls. The track highlighted just how crucial this window of opportunity is to reduce intergenerational malnutrition, and how after the first 1000 days malnutrition can be addressed, and a zero-hunger goal of SDG can be achieved.

After these excellent scientific tracks, my last stop was a round table session on “African Scientific Prioritization, Pandemic Preparedness and Global Health Security”, organized by Justin Dugbazah and Uzma Alam. The session mainly focused on the needs of African countries in areas of innovation, pandemic, and disaster management. Multiple stakeholders participated in the discussion on how lessons from COVID-19 and previous pandemics can be translated into policy developments and improvement of health facilities and strategies. The session was followed by a dyadic discussion on policy development and preparedness strategies.

The conference ended with a panel discussion on “Looking Ahead: Priorities to Strengthen Global Health”. The panel included Trevor Mundel (President, Global Health, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, United States); and Amadou Sall (CEO, Institut Pasteur de Dakar, Senegal). The panelists reflected on all three days of the conference and recaped the innovations shared and discussed. They emphasized the need for further research and innovation in order to achieve the 2028 global fund replenishment goal. The discussion culminated with the announcement of the creation of Grand Challenges Senegal.

Comprehensively, it was a phenomenal and enlightening experience to be among the world’s leading innovators and researchers and to learn compelling lessons, such as knowledge of the innovations and efforts developed to address the increasing impact of mental health. Advancements to harness climate change are steps in the right direction and looking into the need/importance of nutrition in adolescent girls is a novel approach which can lead to right outcomes.