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Behind the Scenes at THET 2018

A steady trickle pushed through the rotating doors of the beautiful City & Guilds Building on the morning of Thursday the 27th of September. Though it was still early, the setting for the Tropical Health Education Conference (THET) 2018 was already vibrant. A row of brightly coloured stalls decorated the main floor space, where 360 delegates would soon discover how UK health partnerships are contributing to Global Health and striving towards the attainment of Universal Health Coverage.

The Medics.Academy team had been on-site for several hours, setting up camp and establishing film and sound equipment in the theatres and break out rooms. We would be filming the sessions, and also documenting key take-home messages via Twitter, film and podcast. As the speakers and participants arrived – a formidable host of leading researchers, practitioners and ministers – we dashed to catch them and arrange interview times.

The day began with a video message from the Director General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, which emphasized the global need for universal health coverage and the importance of effective, innovative partnerships to this end. From there, we bounced straight into a keynote session on “The Challenge we face, and the U.K’s contribution”. The Twitter team worked in a flurry as Prof. Neil Squires (Director of Global Health, Public Health England) declared our public interest in global health and stressed the importance of firm relationships and capacity building. Prof Owen Barder (Vice-President, Center for Global Development) discussed how aid can and should be improved, but highlighted how it is being threatened by economic nationalism and aid fatigue. The inspirational Dr. Sohier Elneil (Consultant Urogynaecologist, and 2018 BBC Healthcare Award Winner) spoke about the challenges faced by women in accessing reproductive services, the importance of collaboration and support, and the effect that change at the individual level can produce.

As the next session began, so did our podcasting, and we whisked the opening speakers away from the stage to share their thoughts. We discovered our carefully planned, sound-tested space had unfortunately been occupied by a few unsuspecting students, diligently working. Thankfully we found a substitute… a relatively empty corridor outside the offices of Imperial College London’s Physics department.  Despite the ad hoc nature of each interview, it was heartening how willing the speakers were to share their messages with the wider public online.

As the day continued into breakout sessions and further talks, we kept up our steady stream of podcast and film interviews – and our bizarre interview locations.  A little further down the corridor from the first interview, Professor Sir Eldryd Parry KCMG OBE (Founder of THET) graciously talked us through THET’s history and future plans. Dr. Oliver Johnson (King’s Centre for Global Health and Health Partnerships) discussed his role in the 2014 Ebola outbreak in the corner of a dining-come-locker-area. A corridor outside a laboratory was our stage for the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr. Catherine Calderwood, to share her take-home messages from the day before rushing for her flight back to Edinburgh. The almost universal friendliness and courtesy of the speakers and their agreeableness to being interviewed speaks wonders about the crowd that gathered to mark this event. That people were so willing to give their time to help educate a wider audience was warming, and being involved was an absolute pleasure.

Keep an eye on the MedicsAcademy blog for the THET 2018 podcast series, including talks and one-on-one interviews with speakers.

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