Global experts talk pandemics and COVID-19 in free webinar series

A slide from Dr. Hendrik Poinar's webinar, Learning From Past Pandemics: From Black Death to COVID-19. McMaster’s Global Health office is opening up its online speaker series exploring COVID-19 from multiple perspectives to a wider audience.

McMaster’s Global Health office is opening up its online speaker series exploring COVID-19 from multiple perspectives to a wider audience.

Expert Perspectives on Pandemics features international renowned experts on topics that include flattening the curve, forecasting the new coronavirus, cultural histories and reactions to past pandemics, and the search for a magic bullet.

The Global Health Office originally began the series for conference participants in April, when the Master of Science in Global Health program’s annual two-week international symposium in India was moved online because of the pandemic.

As many students’ focus for their scholarly papers and theses shifted to COVID-19, organizers brought in speakers who could offer pandemic-related insights and answer their questions.

They included infectious disease expert Gerry Wright, director of the Michael C. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research; Charu Kaushic, scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; and evolutionary anthropologist Hendrik Poinar.

“The online symposium was really large — four countries, multiple languages, 300 people, eight hours a day,” says Andrea Baumann, associate vice-president of global health and director of the MSc Global Health program.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

The speakers went well past what is generally known about pandemics and COVID-19, Baumann says.

“They talk about things that are not widely covered, even when you’re reading and watching all the news about the pandemic,” Baumann says.

And it didn’t hurt that they were extremely engaging.

“I want to be informed, but I don’t want to be bored.  These aren’t dry research talks. They take very complicated issues and put them in a format that’s entertaining, understandable and accurate.” — Andrea Baumann

The response from students at the reinvented symposium was so positive, that Baumann decided to open up the second half of the webinar series to a wider audience. The second phase of the series begins today, May 6.

The Global Health Office has a contact base of thousands of people around the world who study health across disciplines, and Baumann expects the webinars will fill up fast.

The upcoming talks feature Om Kurmi, a respiratory epidemiologist; Baumann herself; Jonathan Dushoff, professor of biology in the Institute for Infectious Disease Research; Anja Krumeich, director of the Global Health program at Maastricht University; and Sonya de Laat, academic advisor in the MSc. Global Health program.

“I expect people will learn things from these webinars that they didn’t know,” Baumann says. “I did.”

“I read four newspapers a day and follow the news. I thought I had a pretty good view of the pandemic. But COVID is a mystery that’s constantly unfolding.”

Enrolment for the webinar series is free, but space is limited. To find out more, register for upcoming talks and watch the first five webinars, please visit the Global Health website.

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