Each year the University of Toronto has the great honour of hosting the Health and Human Rights Conference, a two-day event that engages undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in addressing the world’s most pressing medical and humanitarian crises. The conference attracts students and speakers from multiple disciplines to discuss enduring and emergent health challenges as they relate to the rights of individuals living under social, political, and environmental duress. The theme for the 18th annual Health and Human Rights Conference (March 11-12th) was Health in Conflict Zones, and comes just as Canada has announced completion of its target of settling 25,000 refugees fleeing civil war in Syria. This year’s theme addressed not only the health of refugees fleeing from conflict, but of marginalized populations whose wellbeing is threatened daily by political turmoil and civil unrest in the communities they call home.
Several changes have been made to the format of the conference to encourage passionate individuals to share their ideas, voice their concerns, and collaborate toward creating a better future. An NGO Fair gave organizations an opportunity to share their missions and achievements, while a Research Poster Competition showcased innovative solutions to global health challenges generated through the work of students from history, medicine, engineering, and other disciplines. Breakout discussion sessions provided an opportunity for students to engage in a dialogue about the relationship between health and human rights and what can be done on local, national, and global levels to support the health of vulnerable populations. The Friday discussion panel included individuals who have made remarkable contributions to our understanding and response to global health emergencies, including a former president of Doctors Without Borders (Medicine Sans Frontiers). At the keynote on Saturday (March 12th) we had the privilege of learning from the lived experiences of James Thuch Madhier, a former refugee and current UofT student. For the first time ever, the conference included a case competition and in-house simulation to provide delegates with hands-on experience tackling challenges faced by individuals living and working in high conflict zones.
This conference grows every year as a result of the hard work of UTIHP members and the thoughtful individuals who reach beyond the classroom to learn how we can create a just, sustainable, and healthy world. For more information about this year’s panelists and a full conference itinerary, visit the conference website .