Professor Michael Baker.
One year on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Otago Wellington has assembled a world-leading line-up of expert speakers for its annual Public Health Summer School in February.
The Summer School is convened by Professor of Public Health Michael Baker, who is a member of the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group and has been at the forefront of New Zealand’s response to the pandemic.
New courses this year include a one-day symposium focusing on New Zealand’s COVID-19 experience. A highlight of this day will be a panel discussion chaired by broadcaster Jack Tame and featuring Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Grant Robertson, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Chief Science Advisor at the Ministry of Health Professor Ian Town, Co-leader of the national Māori pandemic group Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā Teresa Wall, Director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) at the University of Auckland Associate Professor Nikki Turner, and Professor Michael Baker.
“This will be the first real opportunity for some of us who shaped the response to reflect on the white-knuckle ride that was the first year of responding to COVID-19,” said Professor Baker. “We’re anticipating some lively discussions as we revisit the highs and lows of the largest public health response in living memory.”
Dr Amanda Kvalsvig.
Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, who is convening this symposium with Professor Baker, added that it had been extremely hard to choose topics to highlight because the response had so many unique aspects, with the entire population of New Zealand contributing in different ways to COVID-19 control. “We’ve aimed to pick out key strands that will help decision-makers to plan the year ahead. The risk of another outbreak is high, so these conversations are very timely.”
Another exciting course examines the transformational opportunities offered by a post-COVID-19 reset, including the potential for more sustainable urban development and transport systems and improvements in health equity.
“The COVID-19 experience has profoundly changed our world, and opened up new possibilities that were previously unfeasible, or perhaps even unthinkable”, says Dr Jude Ball, who is convening this course with Professor Baker. “As climate change looms, we need to think urgently about the opportunities and barriers to creating a fairer and more sustainable world.”
Dr Jude Ball.
The summer school offers a programme of one- and two-day courses and symposia on topical issues in health for those working in policy, research and the wider health sector. This year marks its 25th year of operation, with the event now the largest and longest-running summer school of its type in the southern hemisphere.
The programme will be formally opened with an evening lecture at 5:15pm on Monday 1 February by the Right Honourable Helen Clark on ‘The global response to the Covid-19 pandemic’. Ms Clark is co-chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response set up by the World Health Organization to review the global handling of the pandemic. The panel recently issued its interim report on progress against the virus. Ms Clark is the former UNDP Administrator and Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Professor Baker says the three-week long Summer School programme will focus, not just on COVID-19, but also on the pressing public health issues which have received less attention during the pandemic.
“We will also be looking at tobacco and alcohol control policy, advancing Māori health, public health law, the 2021 water reforms, and working towards a zero-carbon building sector.”