Global Health at the World Health Summit

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the World Health Summit in Berlin (Germany). The 4-day event reunites several stakeholders and global health actors from diverse backgrounds. It was impressive to see over a thousand participants sitting in one same room to hear some political and influential health leaders discussing the most pressing global health challenges of today’s society.

Not surprisingly, Ebola was on everyone’s lips during the Opening Ceremony. No one can deny that there is a political, public, social and economical crisis in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia; and if the crisis has demonstrated one thing so far, it is that more than ever the world is interconnected in a very very complex way and that what happen in one corner of the world can have major repercussions on the opposite side of the globe. Many people will say “this is global health, this is what global health is all about”. And they are probably partly right.

I would myself say that I am a global health lover – I love to look at global challenges from a health perspective, and I love to look at health challenges from a global perspective. I attended the World Health Summit because I wanted to hear about those global health problems and because I wanted to be inspired to act upon them. The idea of knowing that one can strive to seek for equity in health excites me.

But the World Health Summit taught me something else.

In the midst of all discussions, I found myself questioning the true meaning of global health. It is right that there is no common agreed definition of global health and that various members from the academia found their own description that would suit their personal work, their research, their practice. But I didn’t want to stop there, I wanted to look further.

I realized global health has became a concept way too easy to use. In one workshop, we found ourselves counting the number of times global health was said by the panelists. We stopped after an hour. We had reached 57 times. This mean that in this session only, the term “global health” had been use almost every single minute.

I was a bit shocked to realize that global health has became an “empty” word, way too easy to insert in a talk or a political intervention to sound good, fancy, up to date. It had became one of those things you say without meaning it or without understanding its full complexity and reality.

And of course, the story repeated itself over the course of my few days at the World Health Summit. The World Health Summit isn’t to blame for this of course, but it has provided the perfect political context for that to happen. There has been a lot of discussions lately about the concept of global health diplomacy, brought by Ilona Kickbush from the Graduate Institute – and health has make its way to the Foreign Affairs Ministries of many countries, Germany being one good example. But a part of me refuse for health to be completely integrated in the global diplomacy dictionary.

Global health is an interesting concept that sparks a strong sense of commitment and passion in many organizations around the world, as I have witnessed in recent years, and including in IFMSA. People, especially the youth, feel empowered by global health. They want to do and study global health because they feel connected to the global community. They know global health allows them to dare to dream about a society that is fairer.

However, I really would like to see more honesty so that global health doesn’t keep on loosing the meaning we had once given it and that has brought so many of us together.

Coming to those kinds of events give us hope that we are on the right path to become the global health leaders and advocates we wish to be. It is an humble experience to be able to share a plenary room with some of the most influential actors that are shaping the global health agenda from the academia, the private industries, the non governmental organizations – and I thank the World Health Summit for that. I truly believe it is our duty as students to take in charge our own education so that we are trained to face the most important global health challenges of today, such as the ebola crisis.

Youth Participants at the World Health Summit 2014
Claudel P-Desrosiers
IFMSA Vice-President for External Affairs

This blog entry is part of a mini serie on students’ perspectives at the World Health Summit 2014 in Berlin. Look at the previous post, Medical Education at the World Health Summit.

IFMSA Press Release, October 21st 2014:

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