Dr. Swaminathan honored at AAPI’s 16th Annual Global Healthcare Summit in Visakhapatnam


Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, former World Health Organization (WHO) chief scientist was conferred with the prestigious Prof P. Brahmayya Sastry Oration and Dr. T. Ravi Raju Excellence Award during the 16th Annual Global Healthcare Summit organized by the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) in Visakhapatnam on Friday, January 6, 2023.

The event was jointly organized by Prof P. Brahmayya Sastry Memorial Oration Committee and Andhra Medical College, Visakhapatnam, and was chaired by Dr. Abhijat Sheth and Dr. Sridhar Chilimuri.

The 16th annual Global Healthcare Summit (GHS) of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) was held in Visakhapatnam from January 6-8, 2023. Nearly 500 delegates from the United States and India took part in the event that was jointly organized by AAPI and the local organizing committee at Visakhapatnam.

While inaugurating the event, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, urged AAPI members “to give back something to the society, which has given them an opportunity to pursue medical education and become successful in India and abroad.”

The GHS 2023 with the theme of “True and Total Health is the Wellbeing of Mind, Body, and Spirit” had several CME sessions that focused on Mental Health, Infant and Maternal Mortality as well as various other medical specialty updates, and Medical Jeopardy.

Dr. Ravi Kolli, President of AAPI in his opening remarks, while describing the objectives of the Summit, said, “The Global Healthcare Summit aims at raising awareness on key health care issues affecting the Indian subcontinent such as Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases, Women’s and Children’s Health, Infectious Diseases and Mental Health.”

The highlight of this Summit was to reaffirm NRI Physicians’ commitment towards improving health care and creating model programs for the management of various diseases and improving outcomes universally, Dr. Kolli added.

Among the many initiatives that emerged from GHS 2023 was an action plan for AAPI to collaborate with the Andhra Pradesh government to initiate an ambitious program to address the mental health and wellness of students in high schools. Some of the other initiatives were effective treatment modalities for non-communicable medical diseases, reducing infant and maternal mortality, and HPV Vaccination.

At the award-giving ceremony, while introducing Dr. Swaminathan, Dr. T. Ravi Raju, Chair of the Oration Committee said that she was most recently WHO’s Deputy Director-General for Programs. A pediatrician from India and a globally recognized researcher on tuberculosis and HIV, she has 30 years of experience in clinical care and research and has worked throughout her career to translate research into impactful programs.

Dr. Swaminathan was Secretary to the Government of India for Health Research and Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research from 2015 to 2017. In that position, she focused on bringing science and evidence into health policy-making, building research capacity in Indian medical schools, and forging south-south partnerships in health sciences. From 2009 to 2011, she also served as Coordinator of the UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases in Geneva.

Dr. Kolli hailed the accomplishments and contributions of Dr. Swaminathan and numerous healthcare leaders of Indian origin who have contributed immensely to the many ways, the world has been able to overcome the once-in-a-century, deadly pandemic that has devastated the entire humanity. Expressing hope for the future, he said, “The world looks towards us with hope for leadership and consolidated action to prevent and secure the health and well-being of everyone committed to our care.”

In her address, Dr. Swaminathan said, “The coronavirus has evolved significantly since it was first traced in late 2019. From being a considerably deadly virus, it has now become less fatal – thanks to the vaccination initiatives across the world.” She asserted that death rates are much higher in unvaccinated compared to vaccinated and boosted individuals.

Dr. Swaminathan, while describing the main lesson from the pandemic, stated: “Climate change and it all boils down to what humans have done to the environment. Our lives are intertwined with the health of the environment.”

The vulnerable suffer a lot, and it’s important to focus on equity and help those who are left behind, she said. She also stressed the importance of a public health approach, having good data, and research.

We are recovering quickly because of vaccines, she said, pointing out that over 13 billion people worldwide have taken the vaccine and 20 million lives have been saved due to it. The majority of deaths in the US were because of no vaccination, she added.

Dr Swaminathan explained that vaccines are developed with high efficacy and safety. The virus is trying to evolve, and each time mutations have allowed the virus to evade antibodies, she said, adding, “there are people who have not taken the vaccine and haven’t fallen sick, but that’s a matter of chance”.

COVID-19 has also disrupted the education system. It has also adversely affected access to nutritious food as a huge number of children depend on school meals, she said and urged everyone to help children overcome and regain the loss they had to endure due to the covid.

Stating that the global pandemic is marching on, the world-renowned scientist said, “Of the lessons, I have learned since the pandemic began, the most important one is the significance of investing in public health and primary healthcare. Countries that invested in primary healthcare over the past decade or two are reaping the benefits now. Another lesson is the positive role of science and scientists. The global collaboration between scientists to take forward advances in knowledge so that science is continuously informing our response to the pandemic has been encouraging.”

Emphasizing the need for partnership between the private and public sectors, Dr. Swaminathan said, “We also need to think about working with the private sector, which is already playing a very big role in technology. But we need to think about technologies that are considered public health goods.”

For the future, Dr. Swaminathan stressed, “We need to invest in strong institutional mechanisms and capacities in our regulatory bodies, research centers, and public health institutions. We have seen so much fear, stigma, and discrimination circulated on social media. This must be countered by health literacy.”

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