This week marked the 2014 East-West Alliance Global Symposia, a two-day event aimed at promoting collaboration and the exchange of knowledge between Asia, Europe and North America.
The eighth meeting of the Alliance was co-organised by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the China Medical Board, and the University of Hong Kong – who also hosted the event at their beautiful Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine. The Li Ka Shing Foundation very generously funded the event, and inspired this year’s theme of ‘disruptive’ thinking.
Professor Peter Piot began events with an opening address, and was delighted to be presented with the gift of a framed letter belonging to Patrick Manson – known as the ‘Father of Tropical Medicine’. Manson founded both the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese, which subsequently became the University of Hong Kong. Prof Piot then took part in a discussion of the current Ebola outbreak with assembled press and journalists, which was widely reported in Chinese media (find out more in our media highlights).
Focus then shifted to the day’s main topic – education developments – specifically the surge in ‘Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in postmodern Asia’. There has been global debate about the role that this technology will play in the future, and whether e-learning will be ‘disruptive’ to how higher education is delivered and received.
Prof Richard Smith gave an opening keynote address on the lessons for e-learning and MOOCs, drawing upon the School’s 20 year history of involvement as a world-leader in distance education for health professionals. Presentations by institutions from North America, Europe, China, Hong Kong, Thailand and others followed, with insights from students who have undertaken the courses.
The day provided an in-depth discussion as to the potential – and risks – that such developments offer, and the role technology may play in drawing closer collaboration between institutions in the East and West.
Day two of the symposium focused on ‘big data and precision medicine’ – the amount of information available about individuals, ranging from genetic data and mobile phone location tracking, to how much supermarkets know about people’s shopping habits.
The discussion that followed – about personalised medicine, organ-specific disease, and wider population health – was dominated by speculation on how such vast sets of data should be analysed. However, feeling across the symposium was united with excitement at the potential for radical reshaping of the ways that research, practice and policy may be conducted in future.
After the symposium drew to a close Prof Richard Smith said: “Personally, it was wonderful to renew my association with the University of Hong Kong, and especially the Dean of the Medical School, Professor Gabriel Leung, with whom I first worked nearly 20 years ago.”
“It has been too long, and I left looking forward to visiting again soon, and to helping forge a closer collaboration between the School and the University of Hong Kong.”
Image: Hong Kong newspaper reports on Peter Piot’s visit, Oct 2014.