REINVENT Conference in progress. Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY

The full-day conference, which was packed with debates, thought-provoking inquiries, and avid discussion brought serious topics pertaining to global health to the table and scrutinized them through a kaleidoscope of perspectives.

REINVENT brought together intellectuals from public health, international development, political science, history, anthropology, sociology and public policy at the George Ignatieff Theatre to discuss and analyze, with the goal of shaping our understandings of neglected diseases.

“REINVENT is an interdisciplinary, academic conference that will push participants to question the social inequalities that allow neglect to proliferate in the context of global public health,” explained Jessie MacAlpine, who helped run and organize the conference.

The conference began as an idea to promote discussion around neglected diseases, eventually receiving support from the Canadian Institute for Health Research via a grant in 2014. 

“We went through revisions and revisions,” said Abtin Parnia, who is pursuing a masters of public health and was the conference coordinator of REINVENT. “We really tried to grapple [with] how to best create this discussion in a way that generates a better and more complex perspective of the issues we have to deal with and the challenges in issues of diseases and neglect.”

The goal of REINVENT was not only to spread awareness about the issue of neglected diseases, but to promote an entirely new way of thinking about them. In the organizers own words, the goal of the aptly-named conference is to “reinvent our way of thinking about these issues so we can apply it to a broader spectrum of problems.”

This statement pinpoints a core issue discussed during the conference: effectively identifying the reason for the neglect of diseases. The conference challenged attendees to consider how we as a global society can drive change, when many of us have never even heard of the matters of concern. It was brought  to light how few people know about the 17 diseases discussed at the conference (to list a few: leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, schistosomiasis, and trematodiases) that affect more than 20 per cent of the world population.

“Awareness of this problem is a start towards, perhaps, reconceptualising how we deal with healthcare globally,” said historian Deborah Neil, who was one of the panelists at the conference.

How we deal with healthcare must not be solely based on knowledge in the medical domain, as diseases are not exclusively medical issues. They are matters that transcend the borders of sociology, history, economics, and politics as well.

The intersectional aspect of REINVENT allowed ideas and information to flow between these disciplines, ultimately promoting a comprehensive approach to neglected diseases.

Unlike other conferences, “it’s not about learning the facts, but about how to think,” Parnia explained.

When viewed in context of current and local news, perspectives often change.

“We grappled with some real issues in real time,” Parnia said. “As we were organizing, we were talking about the 2014 Ebola crisis. It wasn’t like looking at statistics; it was looking at things as they were happening.”

True to their word, the team constructed an innovative sphere for thoughts and discussion, complete with brilliant panels of insight from interdisciplinary specialists.

“[The conference] reinvented not only my way of thinking, but my whole understanding of global health.”

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