Ursinus students and faculty who participated in the conference Emerging and Persistent Infectious Diseases: Focus on Pandemic Preparedness, are looking toward the next step: published actionable recommendations for policymakers addressing scientific and technological issues facing societies as they relate to pandemic preparedness.
Ursinus students were full participants in the April 11-12 conference which was sponsored by the Institute on Science for Global Policy and the Ursinus Center for Science and the Common Good, which is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Some 55 Ursinus students participated, along with peers from Muhlenberg, Whittier and Eckerd colleges. The conference, explained ISGP Director George Atkinson, was a pilot for other conferences which will include undergraduate students at the table. Sixteen Ursinus students had prepared by taking a course with Dr. Tony Lobo: “Pathogens, Pandemics and Preparedness.”
As Ursinus President Bobby Fong noted in his opening remarks, the pathogens “are an airline flight away from almost any spot on the planet. Are we ready for the next outbreak? How can we respond in a timely and effective way, while respecting national borders, political authority and indigenous cultures?
“Citizens and policymakers need to better understand the scientific processes and findings that inform sound decision making,” Dr. Fong said. “In turn, scientists need to understand the ethical, political and logistical contexts in which their work is embedded. This mutual dependence between science and public policy underlies the mission of the College’s Center for Science and the Common Good.”
The policymakers included the Physician General of Pennsylvania, health department administrators, leaders of biotech firms and government officials. The scientists included George W. Korch, Senior Science Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); Stephen S. Morse, Professor of Epidemiology, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health; and Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Associate Professor, Department of Society, Human Development, and Health, Harvard School of Public Health
The conference allowed the scientists to provide credible scientific evidence so that the policymakers and students, in this case, could be better informed to recommend policy for preventing pandemics. This ISGP Academic Partnership was the first conference in which students could question the speakers. Robert Dawley, Professor of Biology and conference director, said he hopes the conference will take place again next year, and then be a biannual event at Ursinus.