On Wednesday, May 8, when many MLA conference attendees had already left Boston or were in the process of packing up and leaving, Sheila Davis, the Joseph Leiter NLM/MLA Lecturer, spoke eloquently about Partners in Health (PIH) and its mission. PIH is an international nongovernmental organization which provides health care and health training to millions of people in twelve countries. It is noteworthy in that it trains and pays the people of the countries it serves to carry out most of its work. I am familiar with PIH because of some family members’ involvement in the organization, yet I was still spellbound by Dr. Davis’s speech.
Following Dr. Davis’ speech, Laurie Garrett, the Plenary Speaker, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, an expert on HIV/AIDS, and a Senior Fellow at the Global Health Council on Foreign Relations, gave a fast-paced, brain-exploding, and sometimes scary speech about global health threats, such as the SARS virus ten years ago and the new H7N9 Chinese bird influenza virus, which is evolving now. She also spoke about how global health funds have been decreasing because of the world’s economic problems, at a time when more funding is badly needed. In addition, she talked about “synthetic biology” and the expanding use of new 3-D printing technology to perform DIY DNA experiments – some of which have potentially good uses (creating artificial organs for transplant) and some of which have potentially dangerous uses (creation of dangerous organisms for germ warfare).
Both speakers were inspirational and dynamic and I wish that more MLA conference attendees had been present to hear these speakers. I’m hopeful that in the future, such major speaker’s presentations can be scheduled on days in the middle of the conference, when more conference attendees will be able to hear and be inspired by them.