Going Global with Gillings: Reflections on participating in the 2023 Union World Conference on Lung Disease, Paris

By Gunjan Dhawan

Gunjan at the USAID booth, Union Conference 2023
Gunjan at the USAID booth, Union Conference 2023

The fight against Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that continues to adversely affect lives globally. A major cause of ill health, it continues to be the second leading cause of death worldwide after coronavirus (COVID-19)[1]. Despite TB being a preventable and curable disease, over 10 million people contract TB every year1. Thirty high-burden countries account for 87% of the total TB cases, and a total of 1.3 million people died of TB in 2022 alone[2]. Continuous global efforts to fight TB have saved an estimated 75 million lives since the year 20002. Sustained funding to support research and innovative solutions are required to accelerate the fight against TB.

The TB Data, Impact Assessment and Communications Hub (TB DIAH) project, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), is a cornerstone of the Agency’s Accelerator initiative to enhance existing TB data and knowledge sharing and to strengthen national TB programs worldwide[3]. The project supports governments, policy makers, and program stakeholders with the generation, analysis, communication, and use of accurate, quality data for decision-making and scale up. Furthermore, TB DIAH provides the technical know-how to ensure optimal demand for and analysis of TB data, appropriate use of that information to measure performance and to inform national TB programs (NTPs)[4]. From the Performance-based M&E Framework (PBMEF), to assessments, to data dashboards and other resources, TB DIAH offers a range of data-based tools and frameworks to help improve tuberculosis programs worldwide4.  

Global with Gillings
For over 100 years, the Union World Conference has brought together different stakeholders working to combat TB across the globe. These include the different ministries of health, and government agencies, researchers and academicians, funders, implementing partners and private sector. The forum provides a great opportunity for all stakeholders to showcase results outcomes, initiatives of evidence-based research and practice for prevention, treatment, cure, innovation and beyond in the fight against TB. After two years of virtual conferences sessions due to COVID, the four day-long Union World Conference on Lung Health, 2023 was held in-person between 15th – 18th November in Paris, France. With funders, implementers, policymakers, patient advocates, decision makers, bilateral agencies, and other industry stakeholders all under one roof, TB DIAH made a strong presence by highlighting the incredible work done to build and strengthen TB data use in national TB programs across different geographies from the 24 USAID TB priority countries.

Along with the TB DIAH team, I had the good fortune to attend and participate in this year’s Union World Conference on Lung Diseases. I have been supporting the project with the conceptualisation, design, and technical content development for a TB M&E eLearning course to build the capacity of professionals working in national TB programs (NTPs) on M&E of different programmatic and clinical TB indicators. The course will support understanding of TB M&E and surveillance systems and explore how USAID’s PBMEF, which provides standardized, high-quality indicators, can improve the generation of quality data, and support the analysis, interpretation, and use of that data to inform programming, identify gaps, and strengthen the overall system. With dedicated time allocated for the information session at the booth, conference participants stopped for an engaging discussion on upcoming eLearning courses, and PBMEF, with the team. During the conference days, I supported these information and knowledge sharing sessions at the USAID booth, where the project team highlighted TB DIAH’s work on the (PBMEF) and TB M&E eLearning modules.

TB DIAH - UNC team and partners at the conference
TB DIAH – UNC team and partners at the conference

Experiential Learning
After months of focusing on critical public health issues affecting the world, learning about cultural humility, and practicing research methods and measures, participating at a world conference which focused on tuberculosis, was truly an experiential learning opportunity. It was a firsthand experience of witnessing evidence-based interventions that were implemented in different health settings across the globe being showcased at a forum where funders and implementers, researchers, physicians, and decision makers were all under one roof. Partners, innovators, and implementers shared best practices and innovative solutions that showed tremendous impact in increasing access to TB services across TB high burden countries. Sharing space to showcase the ongoing work on the TB M&E eLearning module, engaging in knowledge sharing sessions, and getting feedback from fellow participants on our work, was exciting.

It gave a diverse exposure to the progress towards TB elimination in the world, discover breakthrough AI based solutions to improve TB detection and simultaneously cross learn from other public health researchers and practitioners. Furthermore, I took back the experience of sharing a common space and goal with the TB DIAH team and partners, former colleagues, new associations, and stalwarts in the field of Tuberculosis – all wrapped up in the backdrop of the City of Lights: Paris.

I am grateful to my supervisor Ms Ann Marie Fitzgerald for her constant encouragement and support. A big shout out to an amazing team-Rebecca Cornell Oser, Meredith Silver, Bridgit Adamou, Margie Joyce, David La’vel Johnson, and Darrell R Keyes without whom this experience would have been incomplete.

I am both grateful and excited as I continue my journey in Global Health!

Shining bright – the majestic Eiffel Tower
Shining bright – the majestic Eiffel Tower

[1] Global tuberculosis report 2023. www.who.int. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240083851

[2] 10 facts on tuberculosis. www.who.int. Published October 26, 2022. https://www.who.int/news-room/facts-in-pictures/detail/tuberculosis#:~:text=About%20one%20quarter%20of%20the

[3] TB DIAH – Capture data. Contextualize data. Strengthen TB programs worldwide. Accessed December 13, 2023. https://www.tbdiah.org/

[4] Project Overview and Objectives – TB DIAH. Accessed December 13, 2023. https://www.tbdiah.org/about/tb-diah-overview-and-objectives/

Reflecting on my practicum with Ipas Latin America and the Caribbean

This summer I had the opportunity to spend my practicum working with Ipas Latin America and Carribean, supporting abortion access in Northern Mexico. Though this was a completely virtual practicum it was still undoubtedly an international and cross-cultural experience. The team I worked on included members from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru. As I mentioned in my first update, the biggest challenge of my practicum was working in Spanish. This was my first professional experience that was completely in a second language. It was an immense challenge to communicate complicated analysis ideas and navigate team dynamics. This experience gave me a newfound depth of respect for those that primarily work in their second language and a greater understanding of the immense advantage that native English speakers have in a world where English is considered the primary language of business.

I spent the second half of my practicum analyzing the existing evidence and writing a report on the ways in which Ipas can support abortion access along the Mexico-US border. It was interesting learning about how the different political and social environment on the Mexican side of the border influenced the needs of those communities. My pre-existing expectation was that my report would focus on meeting the needs of American’s crossing the border to seek abortion access. However, I ended up pivoting the focus of my report to addressing the needs of migrants from Central and South America that have been waylaid at the border due to US policies such as “Remain in Mexico.” This experience was eye opening as to the way different policies compound to negatively impact vulnerable populations.

Overall my practicum was a very valuable experience. Though I didn’t love working remotely, it did provide me an opportunity to work on an international team that I might not otherwise have had. I decided to take an ArcGIS course this semester in the hopes of being able to build skills in resource mapping that may be of use to organizations like Ipas. Through what I learned in my practicum I hope to build skills and experiences through my second year of my MPH that will make me more valuable to organizations like Ipas working in the reproductive justice and abortion access space.

A scenic shot of the Jordan lake featuring a person paddleboarding in the distance.
Paddleboarding at Jordan lake.
A bowl of embroidery materials
In my free time I got into sashiko-inspired embroidery.


Reflections on the 12th Annual Advanced Course in Diagnostics (ACDx) in Annecy, France

I am writing this in the airport in Geneva waiting for my flight home from ACDx. This summer for my practicum, I had the pleasure of working with the Mérieux Foundation as they prepared for the 12th annual Advanced Course on Diagnostics (ACDx). This course brings together professionals from all over the world and different sectors, including research, clinical laboratories, policy and regulation, and biotechnology to discuss diagnostics. We had six days packed full of lectures, panel discussions, and workshops all hosted at Les Pensières in Annecy, France.

One of the many qualities that makes ACDx a special event is that it is relatively small. This year there were 25 participants, and a set of core faculty with several additional speakers who rotated throughout the week. We all stayed at Les Pensières Center for Global Health in Annecy, on the beautiful lake. This setting allowed us to build true connections, not only spending all day together learning but continuing those conversations over shared meals, walking along the lake, and exploring the town.

A scenic shot of the river and old town Annecy

The core focus throughout the week is improving equitable access to diagnostics, especially in LMICs. It was a great demonstration of global public health in action. Colleagues from around the world were discussing the barriers to access to high quality and affordable diagnostics in their respective communities, and how to collaborate to build sustainable solutions to complex problems. Throughout the week we heard from experts at WHO, Africa CDC, ASLM, NIH, FIND, UNITAID, Fondation Merieux and more covering various topics in diagnostics from emerging technologies to laboratory system strengthening, regulatory harmonization, antimicrobial resistance, social innovation for public health, public health communications about diagnostics and One Health, and the implications of climate change on diagnostics. Honestly, my head is still spinning a bit from all the great talks we heard and conversations we had. I look forward to keeping in touch with the colleagues I met this week, and I hope to return to Annecy someday soon.


The ACDx group participants pose for a picture outside in front of tall green trees

To learn more about ACDx, visit: https://www.fondation-merieux.org/en/events/12th-advanced-course-on-diagnostics-acdx/