16th World Congress on Public Health: Personal Experiences
Dec 7, 2020
In October, several interns from the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA) were invited to help organize and attend the virtual 16th World Congress on Public Health (WCPH 2020). In the past, we had only ever attended on-site conferences and short, online webinar sessions. By comparison, the remote WCPH 2020 had a fully packed schedule that spanned a week. We did not know what to expect but were excited by the prospects of this unique, virtual experience.
When entering the congress’ online platform, we were immediately impressed to see so many in-depth and interactive features. From a large poster hall, to various programming options, networking platforms, and more the online forum included everything needed to create a memorable experience. A key feature that helped foster collaboration and communication between participants included the ability to share personal data and interests with others. It was incredible to see a diverse group of public health professionals and advocates from other sectors meet on the virtual platform. As interns, it was exciting to connect with prominent public health figures, especially those who have played a formative role in developing our interests as young professionals in the field.
Multiple program options allowed attendees to choose sessions related to a broad range of topics. In particular, we enjoyed attending the live sessions, in which the chat function allowed for participants to ask panelists questions in real-time, as well as the opportunity for greater interaction with one another. We also appreciated how the topics presented were relevant to the current public health circumstances and represented global perspectives. Hearing about similar public health challenges from around the world proved the importance of fostering outreach beyond national borders to promote advocacy and action. Despite being physically distant from each other, we felt that the virtual WCPH 2020 united many different stakeholders to tackle the current global pandemic.
As students, we have studied health promotion and preventative public health measures. With our educational backgrounds, it was amazing to hear speakers highlight the need for interdisciplinary collaboration, especially within the main plenary sessions and ‘World Leadership Dialogues’. The WCPH 2020 featured multisectoral viewpoints in practical approaches on how public health can be considered in policy development and implementation. For instance, one workshop discussed partnerships with the private sector to combat non-communicable diseases. In the discussion, speakers emphasized the importance of implementing policy packages instead of individual interventions within the food industry. We learned that health professionals need to ensure that the private sector does not justify their actions by blaming individuals and holding them entirely responsible for their own consumption choices. Instead of increasing stigma, structural prevention and policy regulations are needed to create a healthy food environment.
Overall, we feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend such an inspiring and informative event. The WCPH 2020 has inspired us as young public health professionals, and we are looking forward to seeing the impact of our discussions in future public health efforts across the world.