2.1 / Mar 2013

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A decade of field epidemiology training in India

Manoj Murhekar and FETP-India Team






Nanoparticle based drug delivery system for tuberculosis chemotherapy
- Dr. Sriram Selvaraju, MBBS,MPH


- Dr. Chitra Grace



My first national public health conference
- Dr.Latika Nath, MPH Scholar cohort-4



Food and health – wisdom from Thirukkural



SANITATION WITH A CIVIC SENSE -- Dr.M.Karthikeyan, MPH Scholar, 4th Cohort, NIE
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA -- A. Murugarasan, PS to Director, NIE

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My first national public health conference

Dr. Latika Nath (MPH cohort 4), NIE

After joining the Masters in Public health course in NIE I considered it appropriate to participate in every public health conference announced. Till then for me conferences of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) or for that matter Pediatric conferences meant a rendezvous with a few close regulars, a good banquet and as much sightseeing outside the conference venue as possible. Choice of attending depended on the place (both city and venue) that it was being organized, the discounts/concessions being offered to delegates and most importantly whether the dates fitted into my busy work schedule.

Being in my ‘mid-life’ student status I had this urge again to participate, be seen and scrutinize the so called nationally recognized public health experts and accomplish some networking amongst the “accomplished” in my chosen field. So, when some colleague gave the news that a public health conference is being organized by the School of Public Health, Bangalore a public -private initiative and all classmates were showing their enthusiasm to register and perhaps send an abstract, I too felt like joining the crowd!! Notwithstanding that I would have to leave a few days earlier from home and family as the dates were falling just before the beginning of a contact session I went forth to register as an early bird .The registration fee was pittance for students and here was a chance to see what it is all about by shelling out the least possible. And so I registered for the EPHP conference –BRINGING EVIDENCE INTO PUBLIC HEALTH POLICY with another classmate with a similar thought process!! Although …..I was wondering how policies were being made without evidence till date???

After a few to and fro emails I managed to get us free accommodation and a scholarship (wow!! No registration fee!!) in Bangalore, again harping on “student status” and I could make out that they were more than willing to accommodate eager participants from NIE ,Chennai …and your “Abstract” madam??? and my answer was ….i had none…dear sir!! we are only students …. little done so far to show off (read “share” with the best in the country).

Bangalore was a city I had never visited and so did some net searches for the “must- see” places with inputs from some Karnataka colleagues…...but will there be time ?? Two days for the cross-country flight and there were no details of either the free scholarship accommodation nor the agenda….hardly mattered as long as other classmates were there!! So I called my most enthusiastic classmates including the one who had initiated the discussion of this conference ….and drew a blank….”kaun jayega madam?...Kya milega ??.....kuch present to kar nahi rahe…you can do some nice shopping there” ……”Arre” !! I harped….”kuch seekhenge beyond the walls of our NIE conference hall and RED ROOM !! ….in the arena of public health and also enjoy the city!” Was I being over –enthusiastic??

“Go attend !!-good for you …..but next time present something …!!” were my mentors encouraging words . After a comfortable flight from Delhi I was led to a humble but clean hostel –not bad with transport arrangement to the venue at an unearthly hour ….of 7am. Obviously it was for some co- organizers and younger MPH students !!

The Hotel venue was tastefully decorated. I walked up to take our Identity cards and was given an ethnic jute bag with lot of stuff on recent public health initiatives in addition to the usual (agenda, pen pad etc) !! The inaugural session had the Karnataka health minister in attendance. Yes, the host institute had roped in public health experts from both the private and government bodies. Around 300 delegates from Belgium, Africa, South Asia including Nepal, Bangladesh and from various states of India were there …. eager to share their experiences, listen to others, and perhaps adopt and adapt evidence based successful policies.

I could now put faces to names I had read about in journals and downloaded literature……stalwarts from Delhi -NHSRC, PHFI, NIHFW, Sri Chitra, AIIPH&H Kolkata. A few familiar faces popped up too like our visiting faculty of Health Economics from IIT Chennai, a Bangalore –based senior, some juniors who perhaps wanted to escape classes and rejuvenate in the “much-better-than-Chennai” temperatures - just enough numbers to have a group photo of NIE delegates in the backdrop of the dais- a moment to remember!!

And so the sessions began …… being half way through our course most of the topics were familiar and relevant and made sense. After attending the plenary sessions we chose our topics of interest and hence our respective halls and made our way to the sub –venues to listen intently. Some speakers spoke with passion, some simply read out the slides and that’s when I realized oral presentations and its rules hammered into us in NIE really matter ….quality of slide, clarity of words and thought, pride in your work and eagerness to share evidence ……everything is carefully observed by the audience and goes a long way to leave an impact. NRHM and its recent state wide evaluations, global health, Universal health coverage were the mainstay topics of the conference. NRHM and its entire basket of programmes were discussed piece-meal by indigenous researchers. I cannot forget the presentation of a paediatrician from Vellore on the evidence based impact of community counseling on bringing behavior change among mothers in new born care.

Both the days passed from 9am to 5pm so quickly without any urge to slip away from the conference venue and explore Bangalore - “How” ? I wondered …or was it that my perspective on conferences had changed ??…Pursuing MPH in NIE, I finally had the rightly tailored mindset to listen to these topics and seriously increase my horizons of knowledge.

I was inspired in those 48 hours to continue to contribute to this field and make myself capable enough to be called to the dais one day to present or better still have the honour of chairing a session …Oh yes!! I can picture myself -gracefully aged …..sharing, commenting, interrogating ,solving queries of young delegates, listening to dedicated colleagues talking eloquently out of years of experience and expertise and leaving a mark….!!!

Public health in India is undergoing a make –over ….experts are moving out from the boring Preventive and Social medicine MBBS level classrooms to dynamic field based community health initiatives over the last decade. MPH is a sought after degree and a lot is expected from its graduates in bringing evidence based changes in implementation of public health programmes and policies. I urge my able colleagues to attend conferences to share, teach learn and become pro-actively involved in national and international forums with the blessings and encouragement of our faculty.