COVID and Equity webinar series yields takeaways for moving forward

A photo montage of headshots of some panelists

Panelists for the COVID & Equity series spanned Wisconsin and the globe. A few are pictured above.

In a series of webinars hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute, experts from across campus, Wisconsin and the world convened to consider the challenges of equity and systemic racism magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black, Indigenous and People of Color from police brutality.

With four webinars in July and August 2020, “COVID & Equity: What We’ve Learned; Where We Go From Here,” brought together diverse voices from our local and international community—including UW faculty, staff, health care providers, public health experts and policy makers—to explore the challenges of health and equity, share lessons learned and consider how to move forward toward a more just, equitable and healthy world. Watch to the webinar recordings.

Here are five takeaways from the webinars:

  • Addressing the COVID019 health crisis must acknowledge and address systemic inequities that lead to gaps in the ability to be and remain healthy and access quality care. The well-being of Black, Indigenous and People of Color, as well as their communities, is highly impacted by these inequities, including a failure to uphold laws and treaties that respect the rights of Native Nations; systemic racism that cuts across sectors (housing, employment, criminal justice) and disinvestment in rural and urban economies.
  • Communities impacted by inequities have community resources and cultural knowledge that are vital to any response. These communities and their leaders must be authentically engaged in defining shared goals and allocating resources to fit specific needs. Resources must be allocated equitably across communities and across the world to ensure health and safety for all and build needed infrastructure to confront the next pandemic.
  • National leadership saves lives. The nation of Liberia, devastated in 2014-2015 by Ebola virus, responded early and successfully to the onset of COVID-19, building on the World Health Organization’s pillars of outbreak response. An engaged president, national preparedness response team and incident management system with active case finding—drawing on experience with Ebola and polio—were key to limiting the spread of COVID. Collaboration, embedding international expertise in local programs and community ownership of the response also contributed to success. Scarce resources will always be an issue in low- to moderate-income countries.
  • Systems thinking is critical to address these complex challenges, engage communities, educate students and make change toward an equitable and just future for all. The response of academia and other institutions must be rooted in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The World Bank’s Africa Centers for Excellence Impact Project is one example of such a program driven by regional need and collaboration to support postgraduate education in STEM, agriculture and health across 20 countries.
  • Individuals can make a difference by educating themselves, engaging with diverse communities and advocating for policies that support health and equity in society, government and civil institutions. Supporting diverse candidates for office and voting in elections are crucial.

The COVID & Equity moderators and panelists:

July 23—“Improving Health Equity in Wisconsin:” Sheri Johnson, director of the UW-Madison Population Health Institute moderated the panel with Paula Tran Inzeo, director of the Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health (MATCH) program in the Population Health Institute, and Lakita Maulson, a UW medical student, class of ’21, in the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine from the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Nation.

July 30—“Institutions Respond: Ensuring Equitable Care:” Ambassador John E. Lange, senior fellow for Global Health Diplomacy at the United Nations Foundation, moderated the panel with Stewart Simonson, WHO assistant director general; Graham Harrison, senior science and technology specialist with the World Bank’s Africa Centers of Excellence (ACE) Impact Project, and Lori DiPrete Brown, associate director at the Global Health Institute.

August 20—“Lessons from Abroad: From Ebola to COVID:” GHI Associate Director Janis P. Tupesis, an emergency medicine physician who has worked with WHO and the World Bank, moderated the session with Mohammed K. Dunbar, a former Mandela Washington fellow and public health officer in Liberia; Heounohu Romello Hessou, clinical coordinator of Liberia’s National COVID-19 Isolation and Treatment Center, and Michelle Niescierenko, director of the Global Health Program and assistant professor of Pediatrics & Emergency Medicine, Harvard Medical School.

August 27—“Moving Forward: Building a More Equitable World:” Dekila Chungyalpa, director of the Loka Initiative, moderated the session with Shelia Stubbs, Wisconsin State Representative, District 77; Jeanette Kowalik, City of Milwaukee Health Commissioner, and Janice M. Rice, Clan Mother, Social Services, Ho-Chunk Nation and UW Senior Academic Librarian Emerita.