Global Health Matters: Around the World of Public Health in Audio
global health
Global Health Matters podcast host Dr. Garry Aslanyan, TDR

After Dr Garry Aslanyan became an avid follower of podcasts, he realized there was a dearth of material from the genre in his own global health field. So he set out to fill that gap with a new series featuring public health professionals and policymakers from around the world who have made a difference – and can inspire others as well. 

The Global Health Matters podcast hosted by Aslanyan, a public health professional  with TDR, the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, co-sponsored by UNICEF, UNDP, the World Bank and WHO, is now entering its second season of broadcasts. It features a diverse mix of themes and line-up of speakers – has picked up an audience of followers in places as diverse as Yemeni villages and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.   

The first episode of Season 2 was launched on Tuesday, April 12. It focuses on “Championing Health Equity in South Africa.”

“The podcast gives people a unique peek into the experiences of people who are just like them,” Aslanyan told Health Policy Watch. “Listeners can relate to the guests and their experiences and compare what they themselves are living through – they can think, ‘can I do this?’ or ‘how does that work?’ or ‘what can this mean for me in my own setting or country?’”

The podcast began at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when new, virtual information tools became all the more important to people confined for days and weeks at home. The podcast series has already covered a broad range of innovative and inspiring research topics – from climate change and health  to science communication  and the challenge of ‘decolonizing global health.’ 

With a focus on sharing perspectives and voices from low- and middle-income countries, the series has already been downloaded more than 11,000 times by listeners in more than 130 countries, Aslanyan said. “The hope is to inspire listeners to do something in their day job with the information they heard,” Aslanyan said. 

South Africa at the nexus of the global health equity debate 

This week’s episode on “Championing health equity in South Africa” takes a long look at the country’s COVID vaccine campaign, whose successes and setbacks were a weathervane for the rest of Africa, as well as its precedent-setting examples in advocating for HIV medicines access, in light of the recent pandemic. 

“As of early March, 74% of those in high-income countries have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared with just 11% of people in low-income countries. As the world commits to global access to medicines and vaccines, is this just on paper or a reality?” the podcast teaser states.  

“Can South Africa’s experience with tackling HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 point to future solutions for other low- and middle-income countries? How has intellectual property rights affected development of vaccines across Africa?”

Appearing on the podcast are three guests: human rights lawyer and activist Fatima Hassan; UNDP policy specialist Judit Rius Sanjuan; and Petro Terblanche, Managing Director of Afrigen Biologics, host of the new mRNA hub in South Africa.

Season 2 of Global Health Matters launched this week: Championing Health Equity in South Africa.

The goal: To inspire

Aslanyan said he started the series after becoming an active listener of podcasts himself. He fell for the audio genre because it runs against the current of 30-second social media soundbytes, providing more thoughtful and detailed coverage of issues in a digestible format – that listeners can tune into while they are travelling or doing something else. 

But when he searched for something that “really covers global health, I did not find much” – especially not one that featured voices from  low- and middle- income countries. So, he and his team decided to start their own series. 

“The ability to get a more insightful, in-depth understanding of a topic is why this medium is appealing. And for us at TDR, most importantly, this allows people from around the globe to learn from the experiences of others and apply them to their own reality,” said Aslanyan. 

Although WHO’s Regional Office for Europe offers a ‘Health in Europe’ podcast, and WHO headquarters features a popular Science in Five video series, Global Health Matters is the only broad-based and regular global health podcast featured by WHO, where TDR is based. 

Aslanyan has postgraduate training in public health and health policy and systems. While not a trained media professional, he was driven by a clear public health mission: to inspire his colleagues in the field. 

“You may not immediately think somebody trained in public health to host a podcast, but I have done all kinds of work for organizations focused on global health,” Aslanyan explained. “I also have experience in innovation and advocacy and have worked in government departments in Canada before moving to Geneva where I really pushed the boundaries of national health.”

He said public health professionals need to be knowledgeable but also able to present things in a way that galvanizes the public around different causes. He had not thought of himself as that person before starting Global Health Matters, but since launch last year he hears from listeners that this is exactly the role he and his guests are fulfilling. 

“What makes me think that the podcast medium is amazing is the way that we reach cities, towns and villages in the most remote parts of the world, which is VERY satisfying – we know that from our stats,” Aslanyan says. 

What were some of the most popular episodes last year?

COVID-19 in Africa: the role of research” helped debunk some of the myths around why there was less virus on the continent. 

Global Health Matters Episode 3.

An episode on “Climate change’s impact on health” looked at the impact of climate change on rural areas whose communities’ health and livelihood depends on the environment. A particular focus was on Maasai communities in northern Tanzania, where persistent droughts have made the people vulnerable to sleeping sickness, a disease spread by the tsetse fly.

There was also a piece on Communicating science, not fiction featured Natalia Pasternak, founder of Brazilian-based Instituto Questão de Ciência, which combats pseudoscience and advocates for evidence-based treatments. Natalia spoke of her own personal experience as a member of  WhatsApp groups for mothers that took a sudden turn into vaccine skepticism.

And thousands of kilometers away, in the Western Pacific, Navigating digital health waves featuring Dr Alvin Marcelo, Executive Director of the Asia eHealth Information Network, explained how the Philippine government allowed open access to data from COVID-19 tests, creating a big opportunity for health researchers and services, for instance better matching of COVID-19 test results from particular locations with availability of hospital bed spaces.

Natalia Pasternak, founder of Brazilian-based Instituto Questão de Ciência
Dr Alvin Marcelo, Executive Director of the Asia eHealth Information Network.

“Of course, we get feedback on every episode,” Aslanyan said. “It seems all of them have touched, inspired or at least piqued the interest of our listeners.”

He said that he and his team at TDR stepped into podcasting with no experience but they have already learned a lot. Season 2 builds on last year’s, bringing in additional topics such as science diplomacy, corruption in health, migration and health and diversity in global health. 

Aslanyan said he also hopes to add an even greater variety of personalities to the podcasts, including, potentially, some guests who are public health service recipients rather than providers.

He added that two universities in the global North and South are using some podcast episodes to assist students in understanding complex public health subjects – a  testimony to the information and clarity being provided by the show. 

“We think it gives learners the ability to relate to the topics they are studying,” Aslanyan said. In terms of the spread and reach of his audience- it’s both surprising and satisfying, Aslanyan adds.

“Sometimes I look at the analytics data showing the people listening to the podcast, and I think, my gosh, who are these eight people in that small city in Yemen who listened to me? I have no idea who they are, but they are there, in a place I don’t know, and I imagine they are probably working in public health.”

The first episode of Season 2 launched on Tuesday April 12. Find it here. Link here to all Season 1 episodes of Global Health Matters.  Find it on YouTube Championing Health Equity in South Africa

Follow @TDRnews on Twitter, TDR on LinkedIn and @ghm_podcast on Instagram for updates about upcoming shows.

Image Credits: WHO, GHM Show , GHM.

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