“Don’t lose heart,” said Dr. Sarita Verma as she opened the 10th annual Health and Human Rights conference at the Medical Sciences building Friday night. Verma’s talk, “Health and Human Rights: how the other half dies,” opened the twoday conference. This year’s event, hosted by the U of T’s international health program, focused on health care disparities between urban and rural communities and international access to health services.

Verma was part of Canada’s foreign service and worked with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Sudan and Ethiopia. She set a grim tone for the conference with photographs of starving children she had cared for.

“Go and be a part of the global community instead of just sitting here and talking about it,” she told the audience.

Canada, said Verma, was poaching foreign health care workers from developing countries. She said students and scholars could do a great deal of good for international health care.

The conference’s keynote speech came from Dr. Peter Singer, a professor at U of T’s faculty of medicine. Singer is also co-director of the life sciences, ethics and policy program at the McLaughlin Rotman Centre for Global Health. The talk outlined Singer’s conception of the role of local manufacturing of health care products, and the resultant boost to local economies, as a key to bridging life expectancy.

“It is very important to create awareness on global health issues and to shed light on the disparities that exist,” said Farheen Shaikh, a fourth-year human biology and health tudent at U of T and chair of this year’s conference.

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