In just three days, the annual Difficult Dialogues forum will kick off. This year’s collaboration between UCL and Difficult Dialogues centres around the pivotal question, ‘Is India’s health a grand challenge?’
Difficult Dialogues is a platform for change. It is a unique opportunity to bring together a varied range of stakeholders, from experts in academia, public policy, business, international relations and civil society. These diverse perspectives will undoubtedly fuel important debates about health in India. Our conversations will focus on the four central themes of the summit: Inequality, Gender, Universal Health Care and The Changing Burden of Disease. Founded by UCL alumna, Surina Narula, Difficult Dialogue’s vision is to build a foundation for these difficult conversations, and translate this dialogue into impact.
The variety comes not only in the panellists and speakers but also the audience. Rarely will you find such a range of audience members — from government officials and civil society organisations to undergraduates — being engaged in the same discussions. The forum will take a broader look at health, examining the impact of social, political and economic factors on communities and individual wellbeing.
UCL pioneered investigation into the social determinants of health, with Sir Michael Marmot’s landmark Whitehall Study leading the way in making us rethink the way we tackle health inequalities and universal health care. Professor Marmot, Ruth Bell and their colleagues at the UCL Institute of Health Equity continue to build this evidence base. UCL has a strong history in being a leader for change; for example it was the first university in the UK to accept men and women on equal merit. As Dame Nicole Brewer of the Vice-Provost’s office said, “UCL’s strength in forming global partnerships lies in its expertise across a wide range of disciplines.” Dame Anne Johnson, a UCL speaker at the summit, was the principal investigator in the first ever study that looked at sexual health behaviours, the first of its kind across the world.
Former Director of the UCL Institute of Global Health and current director of Maternal and Child Health at the World Health Organisation, Anthony Costello, did substantial research looking into interventions which reduced maternal mortality rates in rural Indian communities and one of the panel discussions will look at Better Births and choices in Childbirth. The panel features award-winning independent Indian reporter Sohini Chattopadhay, Bashi Hazard, an Australian lawyer who is Board Director of Human Rights in Childbirth, and will be chaired by UCL’s Dr Aarathi Prasad, who is part of the steering committee for the entire summit. The panel looking at ensuring equality and opportunity for individuals with disabilities, will be chaired by the UCL Academic lead for Difficult Dialogues, Professor Monica Lakhanpaul. Professor Lakhanpaul has recently won funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) for a project which looks at optimal infant feeding practises in rural India. The project is one of the first to be funded by GCRF which recognises world-leading research partnerships improving health in low and middle income countries.
At the heart of this bidirectional partnership between Difficult Dialogues and UCL is knowledge exchange and opportunities for collaborations that work towards the overall goal of universal health coverage.