Hey guys! I’m so glad to finally get a minute to write about last week, when the IFMSA Pre-World Health Assembly took place in Geneva, Switzerland. It has been a life changing experience, though it was super intense! I have decided to break the post into two because there’s so much to tell you darlings about and I don’t want to miss anything interesting!
Group Photo with the Executive Director of UNAIDS – peep Shru & I to his left 😀
So what is the IFMSA Pre-World Health Assembly all about?
Every year, IFMSA organises a Youth Pre-World Health Assembly Workshop (PreWHA) for a delegation of over 50 students, to prepare the participants in the best possible way for the World Health Assembly (More on the WHA in coming posts). This year we had 4 days packed with keynote speaker lectures, discussion panels and interactive streams on different topics: Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), Universal Health Coverage (UHC), Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and Ending Discrimination in Healthcare.
Arrival day for the participants was the same day I had been speaking at the WHO Consultation and it began with a keynote dinner taken by Dr. Gaudenz Silberschmidt the Director of Coordinated Resource Mobilization at WHO. Sharing about his journey from medical school to working for WHO, he highlighted how we, as future medical professionals, need to recognize the perspective of public and global health, whether we were becoming clinical practitioners or global health advocates, or both.
What is Global Health?
Global health is a sector of health that emphasizes its focus on the preventive component of healthcare, through diplomacy, advocacy, policies and global decision-making not only in matters of health but also in other sectors that determine healthcare outcomes such as economy, education, politics and environment.
Dr. Michaela Told of the Global Health Centre, Graduate Institute started the 1st day with a highly interactive session that helped IFMSA delegates define the basics of public health by asking thought provoking questions like “Is health a ‘wicked’ problem?”.
Following closely afterwards, Dr. Ruediger Krech, gave a talk on what the WHO’s Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and Health Systems Department does to achieve UHC. Delegates were taught that health was a major economic driver in many countries and about the importance of investing in health systems to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and harnessing new technologies to achieve UHC.
We were then honored by the presence of Diah Saminarsih (Advisor on Gender and Youth to the Director-General, WHO) who spoke about meaningful youth and gender participation in Global Health and the WHO. We were taught about the importance of why global policy first and foremost needs a country-centered approach with a focus on youth engagement in health.
Next, we had a heart touching session with youth leaders from Y+, YVC and JVAN about the realities of people living with HIV; we were taken aback with the naked honesty shown by the speakers, especially Mo Barry, who gave his personal experiences as a person living with HIV.
After lunch, we had a powerful, live-streamed Global Health Careers Event with fantastic panelists such as Dr. Maria Neira, Director, Public Health and Environment Department WHO, Dr. Akihiro Seita – Director of Medical Services, UNRWA, Dr. Diogo Martins – Policy Officer, Wellcome Trust Global Policy Team, Dr. Anne Pittet – Paediatrician, MSF and University Hospital of Lausanne and Ms. Ellie Marsh – Project Manager, Dalberg.
They each gave unique perspectives on their career paths into global health, Dr. Maria Neira spoke on working with her government on the environment as a social determinant of health (which is basically a societal factor that affects health, such as air pollution causing breathing difficulties), whilst Dr. Anne Pittet spoke about being a specialist and also an humanitarian – her story was especially inspiring, as she told us about how she was able to balance clinical practice (as a specialist pediatrician) alongside global health when she works with Medicin Sans Frontier (Doctors Without Borders).
The first session started with Dr. Nandita Murukutla who spoke to us about the Commercial Determinants of health in NCDs – she helped us to understand that we can’t #BeatNCDs without first tackling the financial causes – such as putting a sugary tax on soda companies so that unhealthy drinks are not available as cheaply as before and will help people to make healthier choices of what drinks they consume – thus reducing the risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Next, we had a very thorough session by Joseph Kutzin from the WHO Health Financing Team, on Financing Healthcare for Universal Health Coverage, because as beautiful as free healthcare sounds – someone has to pay. He took us through different health financing models around the world showing the strengths and weaknesses and it was very helpful for each delegate to apply to the health systems of their home countries.
After the coffee break, Dr. Marc Sprenger, the AMR Director of the WHO spoke to us about the sheer importance of antimicrobial resistance and how it will affect healthcare gravely if it isn’t controlled – for example there are already multidrug resistant strains of gonorrhea in circulation – if nothing is done, people will begin to die from previously curable diseases because the infective organisms will be immune to the drugs that we have. (This is why your doctor tells you not to take antibiotics unless you are prescribed it by a doctor and you MUST complete your doses!)
Next we had a powerful keynote speech by the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, who spoke to us emphatically about the work UNAIDS has been doing to end discrimination in healthcare, which included being a key sponsor of the IFMSA PreWHA!
We had an NCD Panel session about the importance of partnerships in beating NCDs and the panel included: Dr. Dudley Tarton, Rosie Tasker, Dr Diarmid Campbell-Landrum.
Shortly afterwards we had a session taken by Dr. Jim Campbell, Director Health Workforce Department of the WHO on the importance of the health workforce in achieving UHC – and it’s a no-brainer really, if we don’t have enough healthcare providers, we won’t be able to give everyone access to healthcare.
Dr. Yassen Tcolakov, an IFMSA Alumni, took the next session which was about putting advocacy into practice – something all the delegates definitely needed to learn about.
Last but not least for day two, I took the Social Media and Advocacy session where I spoke about the power of social media in bringing about positive change. The aim was to prepare delegates on how important the use of social media would be during the WHA to follow.
And it’s a wrap for day 1 and 2! I guess you can see why I had to divide the PreWHA post – this would have become an essay lool.
Part Two coming soon!