ISU Alumni at the UN/WHO Joint Conference

Linda Dao, SSP16, MSS17 and several ISU alumni recently attended the UN/WHO joint conference on strengthening space cooperation for global health. Linda Dao reports back to the International Space University (ISU) and its community.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – “What does outer space have to do with public health and healthcare services? – Very much!” exclaimed Assistant Director-General of WHO, Hans Troedsson.

Over the course of three days, I had the privileged opportunity to attend a joint conference of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), World Health Organization (WHO), and the Government of Switzerland, with support from the European Space Agency (ESA), on Strengthening Space Cooperation for Global Health.

In a packed room full of 99 WHO and UN delegates, national representatives, organization directors, researchers, physicians, and students from around the world, fruitful discussions took place on the various uses of space technologies and data information to address global health issues. Emphasis was placed on health systems resiliency and interoperability, with additional thematic sessions on space science, technology, and applications for global health as well as capacity building needs and best practices.

Based on the UNISPACE+50 thematic priority #5, a particular focus was placed on the UN’s sustainable development goal #3 of, “Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages”. Various methods that were presented on utilizing space assets in synergy with health-related activities includes the use of Earth observation (EO) and telecommunication satellites for:

-    Early warnings and predictions of disease epidemics (i.e. Zika virus and other mosquito-borne and tick-borne diseases)
-    Improving accessibility to healthcare in developing regions
-    Water contamination control and management
-    Evidence-informed decision making on health-related matters

According to the Chief Science Officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, Dr. Pascal Michel* notes that there is a necessity for “the space community to hear about direct public health needs.” The current examples stress the challenges of cooperation and coordination of activities between health and space authorities.

To contribute to the high-level discussions by advocating for stronger involvement at the student and young professional levels, I strongly highlighted ISU’s 3I’s framework on interdisciplinary, international, and intercultural themes in an oral presentation on “Increased Transparency of International Space Cooperation for Global Health Initiatives Through the Cascading Impacts by Students and Young Professionals from Academia to Industry”. I encouraged the implementation of interdisciplinary collaboration as a means to close the gap between space and health awareness, exemplifying ISU’s unique curriculum. Not surprisingly, among the participants and speakers were a few ISU alumni including Stefano Ferretti (SSP’01, MSS’02), Jason Hatton (SSP’93), Beth Healey (SSP’17), and Lydia Zhang (SHSSP’17)! Here are a few words to how our ISU experience were relevant to the conference.  

“Voicing as a student, I learned more than I contributed in this conference. The gap between space technology and awareness was again brought up — a question worthy pondering for all of us space enthusiasts. Outside the conference room, I was also able to talk to real decision makers from the Global South and introduced the White paper ‘Small Sat, Big Shrift’ from ISU SHSSP’17. Of course, I cannot thank ISU more whenever I ran into amazing alumni around the world.”  

– Lihui Lydia Zhang 'SH-SSP 17, Adelaide, Australia'


*Co-chair of the Expert Group on Space and Global Health of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS)