By Aalok Shah (Meds 2020), HHRC Conference Co-Chair
Human Rights, a concept that has existed for millennia and documented in seminal political and religious documents such as the Magna Carta and the Vedas, got a more modern treatment in November 2017 at the Health & Human Rights Conference (HHRC). The HHRC is a proud tradition of Queen’s medicine students, who have organized this conference autonomously for the past 16 years. Since its inception in 2001, this conference has evolved in both
scope and reach, reflecting the push for interdisciplinary learning and collaboration in education. The 17th iteration of the conference reached out to professionals both within and outside of medicine to educate and engage delegates on its theme of “affirming the human right to health for the poor.” With generous donations from organizations such as the Ontario Medical Students Association (OMSA) and the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS), the 17th HHRC was the first student-run conference in Canada to welcome over 150 students from all over the nation to discuss human rights and health.
The conference itself was divided into two days.
The first day was more didactic in nature, featuring events aimed at educating delegates on traditional social assistance programs and the newer model of the basic income guarantee. Sheila Regehr, the chair of Basic Income Guarantee Canada, gave a keynote address explaining both the philosophical and practical reasons for incorporating a basic income model of social assistance, and its impact on health of the poorest populations in Canada. After this address, delegates witnessed a debate between economists, politicians, and professors on whether a basic income guarantee should replace traditional social assistance programs in Ontario. While parts of the debate were very technical and required knowledge of economics, many delegates reported learning a lot more about the issue with a better appreciation of the pros and cons of both sides.
The second day was more interactive, offering several workshops that engaged delegates in topics including indigenous health, global health, mental health, and art-based interventions in health promotion. Additionally, the “community initiatives fair” provided a great opportunity for delegates to interact and network with organizations in Kingston that are involved in local development work. Some students signed up to volunteer at such organizations during this time, and appreciated the chance to channel their motivation and energy from the conference into action right away. Finally, the second day also featured Dr. Samantha Green, who gave a keynote address on mental health, and offered practical tips for healthcare providers in engaging with patients who may be facing financial or emotional calamities.
Overall, the conference was successful in renewing a discussion about intrinsic rights of humans to health, and how to best achieve equity in an era of equality. This conference would not have been possible without the hard work of the executive committee of 13 people featured below and generous sponsors including the Aesculapian Society, the Dean’s Fund, OMSA, CFMS, Queen’s Innovation Centre, Principal’s Office, Society of Graduate Studies, School of Kinesiology, Global Development Studies, Queen’s Human Rights Office, and the Office of the Vice-Provost.