Interview with Heidi Larson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Dr. Heidi Larson is on the Steering Committee of the 2017 Women Leaders in Global Health (WLGH) Conference at Stanford University. This year she is a co-organiser and will be leading one of the 9 breakout sessions, and next year her institution will be hosting the WLGH conference, with her at the helm of the planning committee.

Dr. Larson is the Director of The Vaccine Confidence Project (VCP) and a Professor of Anthropology, Risk and Decision Science, at the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). She also serves as an Associate Clinical Professor at the Department of Global Health at the University of Washington and is Chatham House Centre on Global Health's Security Fellow.

We asked Heidi to share her thoughts on the importance of this conference, her ambitions for the next conference, and overall gender equality in leadership in global health.

Why do you think the Women Leaders in Global Health conference is important?

Having women in leadership roles is important in many fields, and global health seems like an arena where we would be doing better than other sectors, but we are not. Global health is on the frontlines in the interface between the public, politics and science and if women have leadership roles in global health, it can influence the public, politics and the science.

This event in itself can send a signal that gender equality in leadership matters, that it is a conversation we need to have across all genders in order to have an impact. One important piece of this is involving men, getting them in the rooms where these conversations are happening.

What made you want to get involved with this event?

To make a difference. I hope this event will motivate young women to speak up.

How do you expect this conversation to continue?

The Women Leaders in Global Health conference will continue to occur, with WLGH London 2018 being the next event and in the meantime I hope the conversation around this topic grows. I see this event growing and moving forward if we get momentum and have these global conferences, perhaps every two years and smaller forums in the interim years.

What message would you like to send out to the broader global health community regarding gender equality?

If we don’t have equity in leadership, we will never get it among the public. WGLH can contribute to this change by keeping the conversation going, at annual conferences and conversations in between.

What are, in your opinion, are currently the biggest issues facing women and girls at the moment? Personally, what is your motivation and drive for working on gender equality and how do you address gender barriers in through your own leadership?

I have spent most of my life working in poorer countries and have seen first-hand the condition of women. I think that culture, society and politics play a big part in creating barriers for women. In my own world, I try to champion the work and voices of younger women, something I'm passionate about and one of the reasons I am excited for this conference.

What is the most pressing issue you face as a global health leader at the moment?

I think getting the medical community to understand that the public and politicians do not necessarily make scientifically, evidence-based decisions.

How do people in the community engage with leaders like you?

As my research and work is all about public/community listening and engagement, there are many opportunities for them to reach me. I engage with the global health community by participating in scientific collaborations globally, global symposia, and conferences and I host young researchers, interns and engage in mentoring.

I am very involved in the gender equality movement. For all of us who are involved, we personally make an effort to involve others.

Is LSHTM making any commitment to address gender equality?

LSHTM is active in the Athena Swan and Aurora initiatives.

What role can the Lancet and other high impact journals have in being a part of this thought leadership?

High Impact journals are an important partner in thought leadership around this issue, not only for their outreach, but to provoke questions and investigate the issues we need to better understand in different health arenas as well as cultural and political contexts

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