Science and health diplomacy project in Egypt; the first of its kind in the Middle East
Our Head of Oncology, Ashraf Abdelghany has participated in HSP’s 2017 Health Security Futures Fellowship program. In this article he explains about the importance of science and healthy diplomacy in Egypt and across the Middle East.
This Fellowship is a yearlong program designed to train early-career scientists on the principles and practices of global health security. The Fellowship begins with participation in a one-week in-person training institute in Europe and is followed by a year-long virtual curriculum through which Fellows continue to learn and engage with their peers and mentors. The Fellowship is an interdisciplinary program which addresses a broad set of themes including Science Diplomacy; Global Infectious Disease and Surveillance; Dual-Use Research of Concern; Bioterrorism, and Advocacy and Evidence-Based Policymaking.
My teammate Alaa Obeida is a pediatric surgeon at Cairo University Hospitals as well as the chief innovation officer (CINO) and CO-Founder of EYouth Company. Together we have co-authored a project proposal on science and health diplomacy. We have identified a local health security challenge in Egypt and developed a proposal to meet that challenge. This project would engage the youth community in Egypt in science diplomacy through a unique multi-week workshop program to promote diplomatic principles and provide professional development. This Science Diplomacy Training would prepare Egypt’s youth to be future champions of diplomacy and promoters of science. This project has been approved for funding by Health Security Partners (HSP).
Health Security Partners (HSP) is a nonprofit international development organization that is dedicated to building local capacity to improve health security around the world. They develop and deliver programs in resource-constrained areas that advance individuals’ careers, institutions’ capacities, and societies’ ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious diseases. Ultimately, their mission is to realize a better health security future for all. Born from years of work in the global health and national security sectors, HSP builds upon the lessons learned across the both communities, by scaling proven models of success and launching novel approaches to public diplomacy, science engagement, and sustainable development to create a better future for all.
Back in June 2018, I attended the Science Diplomacy and Leadership Workshop, which was a five-day workshop held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) headquarters in Washington, D.C. The class included 28 participants representing 16 countries including Australia, Austria, Costa Rica, Chile, Egypt, Italy, Latvia, Puerto Rico, Pakistan, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and the United States. Participants came from varied professional disciplines and many are currently in graduate programs or already hold PhDs. I was honoured to be awarded a professional travel grant from Health Security Partners (HSP) in DC to participate in the AAAS workshop in September 2018, which helped toward the successful implementation of my project.
The AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy hosted their fourth annual science diplomacy conference, Science Diplomacy 2018, at AAAS Headquarters in Washington, D.C. This year’s conference was particularly special as they celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the center. The one-day event brought scientists and engineers, policymakers and diplomats, and educators and students together around emerging and timely issues of science diplomacy in plenary and parallel panel sessions. During this event, I was honoured to present the project that I am working on with my teammate Alaa Obeida which is about improving awareness of science diplomacy among youth studying in the science and medical fields.
I also recently represented this project at the Science Policy Symposium at the Rockefeller University in New York on 10 November, 2018. The annual NSPN science policy symposium is a day-long event focused on bringing together early career scientists with an interest science policy, advocacy, and diplomacy. Intended for all levels of experience, our schedule includes speakers, panels and workshops, and aims to provide an environment where scientists nationwide can interact and form connections that will lead to new collaborations and projects.
This year’s symposium was organized by SEPA – a graduate student and post doc led organization among Weill Cornell, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Rockefeller University in New York City. The group educates scientists on the intersection of science and policy, explores science, or education policy as a career path, and trains scientists to communicate to non-scientific audiences for advocacy and general public outreach.
“This project would be the first of its kind in Egypt and in the Middle East”
It is an awareness project in its short-term plan; but in long term plan it is a youth empowering and policy making adjustment project. The idea of the project is to raise the awareness about science diplomacy among youth studying in the science and medical fields. We also aim at tackling the major issues in the MENA region that science diplomacy can help in solving through opening a gateway between the ambitious youth and the current policy makers.
This project will improve the awareness of the youth community in Egypt and lead to empowerment and policy-making adjustments. Our project will have three phases: the first phase will assess the current knowledge of the youth. The second phase will be about raising the knowledge. Finally, the third phase makes a real change in the community toward science diplomacy to address health, environmental, and food changes. The assessment of the project will be measured by regular surveys in addition to the projects that the teams will implement.
Science alone cannot solve the many global issues that Arab countries face today. However, there is no doubt that science diplomacy has a very important role to play in addressing those challenges and issues that contribute to regional instability.
Young generations in the Arab countries are the key to making real progress in solving the many local and global issues they have. In Egypt, around 23.7% (20 million) of Egypt’s population are young people (18-29 years with 51.1% male, 48.9% females). Thus, youth in Egypt are the most important factor that will solve those many problems and/or challenges in health, environment, energy, water, and food through a new approach of dealing with such problems in a different way to facilitate collaboration.
In Egypt, we have a great potential in youth, yet this potential is not used well either by the community or policymakers. So, we are planning to focus on the use of the youth community in Egypt to make them participate in the science advancement and international collaboration to have well-focused policymaking strategies.
Through this project, we expect to affect the lives of at least 10,000 Egyptian youth by raising the awareness about science and health diplomacy and training them. This will directly affect thinking of youth of global issues. We also aim at linking youth with innovative solutions to the policy makers in Egypt in different ministries. This is supposed to affect the way youth think of regional issues and also will help them develop positive attitudes towards developing innovative solutions for the devastating problems.
The objectives of the training are to:
- Establish a baseline knowledge about science and health diplomacy and SDGs through studying science diplomacy course with the participants.
- Identify key problems in Egypt that science and health diplomacy can help solve.
- Choose a number of problems to put strategies to solve.
- Teach the participants how to develop a strategic plan.
- Develop strategic plans for the chosen problems.
- Develop a working strategy to start implementing with the participants after leaving the camp.
The camp will also include a group of social activities to strengthen the bond among the participants because they are the nucleus of our program and their role is crucial in the program sustainability.
For the sustainability of our project, the youth community that we will form through those trainings is our strongest point and will be the future champions of science diplomacy who will maintain the sustainability of this project. During the camps, the participants will come up with ideas to solve some of the distressing problems in Egypt and work on those projects through science diplomacy approach and also they will spread knowledge about science diplomacy practices in their local communities. Following the work up with these teams will help us sustain this initiative.
Additionally, we will collaborate with international organization and will apply for grants from funding organizations for the project and also for the chosen projects to ensure the sustainability of the project.
By the end of this project, we expect to have an empowered community of ambitious Egyptian youth along with a network of international colleagues who help them develop international solutions for the current global issues and/or challenges.