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Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


UW’s 2024 Global Health Symposium emphasizes intersection of migration, public health

Speakers discuss UW’s role in creating global health equity
Abby Cima
Badger Herald archival photo of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. February 23, 2021.

April 10, the University of Wisconsin held its annual Global Health Symposium. “Moving Global Health Forward” was the theme of this year’s symposium, hosted by Office of Global Health Director Jim Conway and Global Health Institute Director Jorge Osorio. The session discussed migration in the Americas, reflections on the pandemic and expansion of UW’s global health initiatives.

The session began with a fireside chat with School of Medicine & Public Health Dean Robert Golden, Vice Provost and Dean of the International Division Frances Vavrus and  associate professor of endocrine surgery Kristin Long about the importance of global health studies. The global health work that happens in Wisconsin creates an impact on the rest of the world, which empowers the Wisconsin Idea, according to Golden.

According to Long, having medical experience worldwide allows for health professionals to be more efficient in problem solving with medicine. From her experience doing surgery in eastern and southern Africa, she was able to learn how to be more conservative with her resources.


UW faculty can also benefit from international education, according to Vavrus. Having international expertise in education can help researchers think more globally about what their “footprint” is in places abroad.

The panelists also reflected on how global health was reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Long, because of the social distancing requirements, her global surgical team learned how to use zoom to connect with ICU rooms in Ethiopia and conduct patient care through technology. 

Golden also discussed the issue of polarization that spawned during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Golden, to better prepare for the next pandemic, he recommends avoiding pointing fingers and instead focusing on collaboration.

“Global health should bring us together and not divide us,” Golden said.

The symposium also included keynote speakers Faculty Director of Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Sara McKinnon and Director of Immigration Justice Clinic at UW Law School Erin Barbato. The speakers discussed migration in the Americas and their “Migration in the Americas Project,” which focuses on assisting migrants on their journeys through North and South America.

Their work focuses on the Darién Gap, which has emerged as a dangerous environment for migrants, McKinnon said. 

During this migration journey, people experience physical health issues ranging from diarrhea to bone fractures, Barbato said. Up to 80% of migrants in the Darién Gap also face mental health issues. 

Along with health issues, social constraints such as stigma play a role in the struggles that migrants in the Darién Gap face. According to Barbato, she has seen and heard experiences of migrants facing discrimination from other migrants based on skin color.

Policies enforced by governments of the countries in the Americas such as Panama, Mexico and the United States are another obstacle migrants face, McKinnon said. And the policies have been getting harsher and more complex over the past few decades.

“It [government policies] is making it harder and harder for people to have options — safe options,” McKinnon said.

According to Barbato and McKinnon, this crisis of migration is also seen in Mexico, where many migrants to the United States experience illness, danger of human trafficking or kidnapping and immigration policy complexity. 

The project is currently working on creating more immigration law clinics to provide interpretation of law to migrants and help arrange refuge in the United States, where admission requires access to specific resources and technologies, according to Barbato.

With the help of Osorio, the project is currently monitoring vector borne diseases, which are diseases caused by insects, that affect migrants in Necoclí, Colombia, McKinnon said.

The Migration in America’s Project was shown to be crucial in the topic of global health and the theme of moving global health forward, Conway said. 

UW has various sources offering money, people and resources to make a difference globally in the world’s health, according to Golden. 

“We can do it [lead in global health], there is a moral imperative that we should do it,” Golden said.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to correct Jim Conway and Sara McKinnon’s names, Jorge Osorio’s job title and to clarify Kristin Long and Sara McKinnon’s job titles.

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