Written by Vikash R. Keshri
In-person conferences are an excellent way to get the vibe, feel the connection and get an update on the latest happening in our chosen field. Conferences are opportunities to expand our interests and refine and challenge our worldviews. For early and mid-career researchers or practitioners (EMCR), a conference can shape outlook and lead to career-defining or turning opportunities. An impressive keynote talk, or presentation can help identify and ignite the internal passion for a chosen cause. A serendipitous meeting with a future mentor or employer can change a life course or career. There is so much to gain from an in-person conference.
I have been participating in public health conferences since 2010 and have attended dozens of them, most recently, the Global Health Systems Symposium (HSR2022) in Bogota, Colombia. These conferences immensely shaped my public health viewpoints, helped me connect with key individuals and collaborators, and influenced my career choice. Notable to mention here is the scholarship/bursary support which enabled participation as an EMCR based in low and middle-income countries (LMIC). I started working in injury research in 2020 and started a PhD focusing on health systems response to burns. So, I had that déjà vu feeling of being a newbie during the recent ’14th World Conference for Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion (Safety2022)‘.
The efforts to bring together participants from across the globe in these uncertain times must have been a colossal task. Personally, this was great cross-cutting learning and enriching experience. The diversity and multidisciplinary nature of the injury prevention approach made me think beyond the box and the boundaries of health systems. The intersection between social determinants of health and injury is so apparent and prominent but still largely unaddressed. I also observed some apparent differences in this conference as compared to my earlier experiences with public health conferences.
There were 600 face-to-face registration and 150 virtual attendees, which was lower in comparison to other global public health conferences and previous editions of this conference. This probably reflects the preferences for a hybrid working model in the new world order. Geo-political and funding constraints can be other critical barriers to participation. Participation from LMICs was also low, which hints at the low priority, limited network of researchers and practitioners, and a limited funding opportunities for injury prevention and research in the global south. This trend also mirrors the pattern of agenda settings of public health issues akin to maternal and child health and health systems, where institutions and individuals from high-income countries (HICs) set the initial agenda, and participation and leadership of LMICs gradually improved. Fragmentation of injury researchers into different groups can also be another potential contributor to low turnout.
Methodologically, there were many innovative and informative workshops and sessions at the conference. Thematically, the conference was a good mix of multiple injury-related issues. However, road traffic injury and drowning dominated the conference over other issues, such as burns (my own bias). The conference presentations were generally more epidemiologic than ‘systems’ focused. I am sure as the world of injury prevention networks is growing, the agenda of injury research will naturally expand.
We have the right opportunities for accelerating the momentum with Safety2024 scheduled in Delhi, India. The next safety conference can be a ‘watershed moment’ in pushing the injury up in the public health agenda in India, South Asia, and the entire global souths. By 2024, India will be the most populous country with a high burden of injuries, unique nature of injuries and underlying social determinants. Some issues like burn injury and resulting high mortality and disability are very different in India and South-East Asia. Safety2024 would be an opportune moment to deliberate on these issues and actively engage more practitioners, researchers, and policymakers from LMICs. The theme of safety2024, ‘newer methodologies in injury research’, is also inclusive and has the potential to attract the broader public health community to the field of injury prevention and safety promotion. Efforts should be aimed to reduce financial constraints for participation and curate sessions to attract experts from diverse backgrounds.
I will conclude by quoting Kahlil Gibran; “Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream”. So let us dream of making injury prevention and safety promotion a global mainstream agenda.
About the author
1. The George Institute for Global Health, New Delhi, India
2. The George Institute Global Health, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
Vikash is a medical doctor with public health specialisation. His research interests are in health policy and systems research and burns injury. He is a senior research fellow at TGI, India and a PhD candidate with TGI, UNSW, Sydney.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
Conflict of Interest: None