International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora 2012: Scholars React

Jul 10, 2012, 11:47 AM

Last week was the International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora (ICHAD), which convened experts from a variety of fields to discuss the health and social experience of African descendants in the Western hemisphere. Below, two scholars from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College who attended the conference talk about the experience. Helena Dagadu, MPH, is a 2011 health policy fellow and doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University, and Tulani Washington-Plaskett, MS, is a Fall 2011 health policy scholar and second-year medical student at Meharry Medical College.



Human Capital Blog: Why did you decide to attend the International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora?

Helena Dagadu: When I met Dr. LaVeist almost two years ago, he shared his idea about ICHAD with me. As he described his vision for the conference, I knew I had to be a part of it. My research and policy interests fit directly with the spirit of ICHAD to both understand and address health disparities among people of African descent. I also attended because this was an opportunity to meet people from different disciplines and gain some insights from their respective perspectives.

HCB: What do you think health care providers, the research community, and policy-makers should know as they work to improve health in African Diaspora communities?

Dagadu: I think they should keep in mind that there is great diversity among African Diaspora communities, but at the same time that these communities share a common goal to improve and maintain good health for themselves and their children. Balancing these two concepts of diversity and commonality means that health professionals can’t mindlessly transplant what works in one community to another, but must tailor interventions based on the specific historical, social and cultural context of Africa Diaspora communities. This can be daunting, but I think it works when we keep in mind that despite the diversity, we as human beings ultimately want similar things, namely opportunities to thrive.

HCB: Any other insights from conference you’d like to share?

Dagadu: The most important thing I’ve learned from ICHAD is that it’s more than a conference. This is a community that embraces all sorts of people: researchers, scholars, practitioners, policy-makers, and funders to name a few. I think building a transdicisplinary group is what is required to address the health challenges and maximize the health opportunities of people of African descent.  I’m glad to have been part of this inaugural meeting and look forward to its future contributions.


HCB: Why did you decide to attend the International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora?

Tulani Washington-Plaskett: I decided to attend the conference because it featured nations uniting around one common goal: to get an understanding of the health and progress of the millions of African descendants of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The conference had a warm, touching, embracing theme of “we must never give up on health and humanity,” from the start.

HCB: Which sessions at this conference have been most helpful, and why?

Washington-Plaskett: As a future health care provider, the sessions that were the most helpful to me involved research into the causes of health disparities across nations among people of African descent.  I believe this information helps me better understand the patient population I plan to serve. I think this work will also fuel further research into ways to combat the disparity that exists.

The unifying theme carried on throughout the conference into other sessions, the state of the Black woman in the United States as well as the Caribbean.  The health status of the women that reside in any country is a great indicator of overall health.  I was honored to be able to sit with a group of women as they discussed the need to create communities of women to support one another in their health issues as well as other concerns. 

I was thrilled to be able to attend the ICHAD 2012 Conference in Baltimore, MD this past weekend.  It was eye opening, motivating, and inspiring. I truly hope this conference has motivated people to continue the work done by leaders in this field.  This conference is like no other and I cannot wait until next year. ICHAD 2013!

Watch videos of Dagadu and Washington-Plaskett discussing their experience here and here.

Learn more about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.