Water and refugees in the spotlight at Global Health Symposium


Check out photos from the 2017 Global Health Symposium

When it comes to fighting waterborne disease in drinking water, Tim Ford, a respected international water expert and keynote speaker for the 2017 Global Health Symposium at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, sees a long way to go.

Ford, professor and chair of Environmental Health Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and co-chair of the PAHO Foundation Technical Advisory Group, will discuss the significant challenges to clean water worldwide and in the United States. “We’ve seen such a great example in Flint, Michigan, that clean water is absolutely critical to our lifestyles, to our health, to our nutrition, to every aspect of our lives,” he says. “Water is as critical as air.”

Tim Ford

Ford’s presentation, “Global Issues in Water and Health,” open the 14th annual global health symposium, “For Our Planet. For Our Health.” This year’s symposium begins at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, in the Health Sciences Learning Center. Registration is requested not required.

More than 50 members of the UW-Madison community will participate in oral and poster presentations of the local and global projects across academic disciplines. Their investigations delve into an array of medical, policy and environmental factors that influence health and illness, including:

  • How satellites can advance air quality and public health
  • Infection control
  • Women and agriculture in Northern Ghana
  • Linking human and lake health at Lake Victoria
  • Immunizations in Thailand

The evening closes with a panel discussion on refugees, resettlement and health led by Karen Solheim, director for global health initiatives in the School of Nursing. Panel participants, including refugees and those who work with resettlement in Wisconsin, will explore changing U.S. refugee policies and processes and how they impact health. “We want to be educated and to serve and to conduct research about this important population in our global community,” Solheim says.

“As global health actors, we’re concerned about the 60 million refugees and displaced people throughout the world.”—Karen Solheim, School of Nursing

Global Health Symposium Program 2017

The challenge of combatting waterborne disease

Ford began his exploration of water as an environmental microbiologist looking at how rivers and streams cycle organic material. His later work shows the epidemiological links between contaminated water and global infectious disease. He brings with him the perspective of working in India, Russia, China and, most recently, with the Crow Nation in Montana to improve drinking water safety.

Water is central to nutrition. Hygiene and sanitation are as relevant today as they were in the 1800s. “We haven’t got it right yet in this country,” Ford says. “Our piping systems are 100-plus years old and deteriorating. We still have a long way to go before we can say we’re providing ourselves with a clean water source.”

The Montana Crow Reservation faced many of the same health issues—from high unemployment to chronic disease—Ford found globally and showed again that clean water is an environmental justice issue when low-resource communities suffer the most. Ford will discuss challenges on reservations as well as cities, looking at lead poisoning in Washington, D.C., and Flint, and cholera in Bangladesh. He also will speak to the value of community-based, participatory-research methods, based on his Montana experience in which his group provided health risk data and fully engaged the tribal community. Together, they influenced policy that led to building new water and wastewater treatment plans.

“If we’re not effective engaging communities, we won’t be effective,” he says. “Part of the task is conveying the importance of health information at every level.”

Ford’s work with PAHO Foundation includes new initiatives to optimize field-deployable techniques for environmental monitoring and infectious disease diagnostics. The PAHO Foundation strives to improve the health and well-being of the people in the Americas.

Ford’s lecture is co-sponsored by the University Lectures Committee.

By Ann Grauvogl/ March 20, 2017