Posters and banners declaring “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Ensuring the Right to Health” were hung throughout the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver last month, celebrating the theme of the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) 144th Annual Meeting and Expo. As a first time attendee, one of approximately 11,600 people, I was a bit overwhelmed; yet, the conference presented a unique opportunity to learn about public health from practitioners, students, scholars, and activists.
I was also able to present my research, a poster on HIV-positive mothers in Zambia. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 25 million people with HIV/AIDS — 71% of all cases globally. However, progress continues towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2000. Zambia, for example, although it has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, has seen a decrease from 15 % to 13%. This progress is promising, and more resources have been leveraged towards treatment and improving health status of persons living with HIV/AIDS.
In addition to articulating my research, I also enjoyed meeting and interacting with fellow attendees at the various break-out sessions and in the exhibit hall. I attended the student mentoring session organized by the Medical Care Section, where I engaged with mentors and students in small group discussions. It was an experience like no other, with mentors from academia, public health, medicine, research, non-profit organizations and more, all in one place to help guide students in their chosen career paths. During this session, I interacted with two mentors from which I learned skills to navigate the job market, how to excel at my first job, how to maintain professional relationships and much more. Moreover, the small group format allowed me to comfortably ask questions based on the mentor’s expertise.
Another exciting session was the opening general session by Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards. Personally, I felt compelled to hear her give the keynote address because of the current events surrounding the organization and the politicization of women’s reproductive rights in general. One does not have to be pro-choice in order to support family planning and the host of other services that Planned Parenthood provides for both men and women. In fact, Ms. Richards included a moving testimonial from a 12-year old boy who was grateful to Planned Parenthood for helping to save his mother’s life by finding her cancer early.
To further expand my knowledge of public health, I also explored the exhibit hall. I experienced virtual reality, ordered a textbook, and had my resume critiqued. I also obtained many pamphlets for detailed information on programs that caught my interest (and lots of free goodies!).
APHA 2016 left me feeling empowered and motivated to continue gaining more experience in public health. See you at APHA 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia!