IFMSA at the 62nd WHO WPRO session

Renzo, Maria, and Kyle with the WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan

This week, October 10-14, 2011, I, together with Maria Lioni Kusuma Tatang from CIMSA-ISMKI (Indonesia) and Kai-Yuan Cheng (FMS-Taiwan) am attending the 62nd session of the Regional Committee of the WHO Western Pacific Region. The last of the series of WHO regional meetings for this year, the session is held in the newly-renovated Conference Hall of the Western Pacific Regional Office in Manila, Philippines.

The Director-General, the Regional Director, and the Heads of Delegations of Member States in the newly-renovated WPRO conference hall

In the following days, Maria, Kyle and I will be posting short reflection essays and updates about the discussions here in WPRO. To learn more about this meeting’s agenda, see the meeting webpage:

The IFMSA Team with the Regional Director, Dr. Shin Young-soo, and the delegates from the Asian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA)-International

The regional meeting started yesterday with a speech from the Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan (which can be read here, as well as a regional report from the Regional Director Dr. Shin Young-soo. Also discussed in the afternoon was the World Health Assembly resolution on WHO Reform for a Healthy Future. Due to lack of time, IFMSA was not given an opportunity to read its statement, but a copy of it was circulated among the participants. I will write a separate essay about the subject soon.

Dr. Margaret Chan: “You Member States are the owners of WHO. We the Secretariat are your servants.”

Keep abreast of future posts and learn from Maria, Kyle, and I the lessons we gained from and our opinions on the different topics in the agenda. We will also be sharing all our seven interventions for the entire meeting.

Below, I am posting Maria’s and Kyle’s reflections on and learnings from Day One. For this post, I am also sharing our statement on WHO Reform for a Healthy Future.

Towards a healthy Asia-Pacific,

Renzo Guinto

Regional Coordinator for the Asia-Pacific

Head of Delegation, IFMSA Team to the 62nd WPRO session

Kyle on a tête-à-tête with Dr. Chan

Kyle says:

The first day of the WPRO meeting consisted of greatly a review and evaluation on what WPRO and Member States have been working on for the previous year. A strongly worded address by Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO, on combating tobacco industry provoked a heated discussion on what many nations have done on this issue. I was pleased and fascinated to learn that Australian government has successfully  enacted a law to make the packages of cigarette covered almost entirely by unpleasant warning signs, a pioneering achievement for our governments to follow.

Representatives also mentioned a substantially about the improvement of national health systems, saying that there are still much to do in many countries in our region. While China -Taiwan’s health care system is one of the very unique and somehow successful cases, this could possibly be a topic we will be able to make contribution to once specifically discussed.

The day was highlighted on another address by Dr. Chan on reforming WHO, she stated that “Member States are the owners of WHO. If my member states act like visitors instead of stakeholders, we will not get thing done.” WHO has always been under criticism, even by the Member States, and I think it is appropriate and important to remind the Member States that the significant feature about WHO and other UN organs is that they are composed of national delegates, and that they can thus collect the opinions of the people all over world. Member states are the main players in the global health arena.

Maria browsing through WHO publications

Maria says:

Being a member of IFMSA delegations in this 62nd session of WHO WPRO Regional Meeting is such an honorable and precious experience. In the first day, Kyle, Renzo, and I met a lot of extraordinary people and experts to talk to and even take pictures with!

It was opened with a keynote speech delivered by the Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan, who underlined the topics in the agenda for this 62nd session of WHO WPRO Regional Committee. First in the agenda were the WHO 61st session reports and Member States’ appreciations of what WPRO has done within the last year.

WHO Reform was the next big agenda proposed by the Chairman. It emphasized what aspects of WHO, especially in the Regional level, that need to be adjusted in order to accommodate Member States’ needs. Particular demanded improvements mentioned by Member States were: improving WHO’s functions especially monitoring, regulating, creating recommendations, and technical provision functions; making clear the distinctions between the Geneva Headquarter, Regional, and National level; WHO innovation and strategy to conduct in concert with current health players from government, private enterprises, NGO, and academia; reforming of the funding and budgeting system; WHO independent formative evaluation; and WHO leadership in defining health priorities.

After the Member States have spoken, a strong, brilliant, and inspiring impromptu speech from Dr. Margaret Chan ensued. She clearly stated that Member States are the owner of the WHO itself, not the guests, and to run the WHO effectively, it will need the cooperation of all 194 Member States. She gave many examples where cooperation is not occurring, for example in the area of funding and prioritization. She stated that what happening is nowadays is, some Member States who give voluntary contributions earmark the funds for certain priorities, while other Member States make other demands from WHO that are not aligned with the purpose of earmarked donations. Now, she is challenging Member States to repair the incoherencein their policies, both at the WHO level and at the national level.

She also presented the proposed World Health Forum as a potential solution to overcome the lack of coherence. She believes this will provide Member States an opportunity to listen to others, especially to nongovernmental entities working for global health such as global health partnerships, civil society, and academia. Unfortunately, Member States opined that WHO should maximize first the existing consultative mechanisms within the WHO instead of creating another institution such as the World Health Forum.

In sum, the message of WHO reform for all of us is that we need to switch our perspective, from always demanding from others to making a contribution as owners of the World Health Organization. We can work in concert in shaping our priorities, in identifying what health issues are urgently needing of support and solutions from by Member States.

I wish that IFMSA will take a part in the reform of WHO, and in the reform of the current global health system at large. I hope to see the day when IFMSA can show actual contributions and assert itself as one of main players of global health in the 21st century.

Medical Students’ Perspective on

Item 16. Coordination of the work of the World Health Assembly, the Executive Board and the Regional Committee

WHA64.2 WHO reform and EB129(8) WHO reform for a healthy future

Whenever we medical students hear about WHO and global health governance, we are reminded about our Federation, which somehow reflects the sense of global cooperation WHO is built upon. Presently, IFMSA is a unique network of 106 medical students’ associations from 99 countries, representing over 1.2 million medical students worldwide – and our tribe continues to grow every single day, as we recruit more national member organizations.

We medical students laud the WHO for having initiated this process of self-reflection, evaluation, and reform. These times, the organization and the global health community as a whole face challenges both old and new. While we still grapple with many of the problems that inspired the creation of WHO in 1948 such as infectious diseases and weak health systems, we also encounter emerging global health issues in this century, such as public health emergencies, viral pandemics, and upstream determinants of health.

On the other hand, the current global health landscape is very much different from what it was six decades ago. New players such as philanthropic organizations and health partnerships, as well as the consistent voice of civil society, have greatly transformed priorities in global health.

Despite all these changes, millions of people still die of preventable causes, while health care remains invisible to the many of the world’s poor, marginalized, and underserved. Now more than ever, we need to strengthen WHO and improve global health governance. We need institutions that are relevant and responsive and that meet the vital and urgent needs of humanity, especially in the arena of health.

We believe it is time for WHO to define its core thrusts, and therefore we agree with the proposed core businesses, particularly its role in convening for better health. We recognize WHO as the only institution capable of providing a balanced platform for global discussion on the future of our health, while taking into account diverse interests and priorities. In line with this, we support the proposed World Health Forum as it provides an opportunity for all voices to be heard. It is only by listening to a wide range of perspectives that we can truly move forward in improving our people’s health.

We ask the Member States to give the WHO the greatest support possible, because you are the very reason why we have WHO. WHO does not need to die, but it just has to be reborn, and its renewal will greatly depend not just on the capacity and vision of its technical staff, but in the commitment and contribution of its Member States.

We also remind the WHO to not forget us, medical students and young people, in the World Health Forum. We young people should not be seen as beneficiaries or recipients of health care, but as partners in health, as inheritors of the present global health system. You are assured that we will offer fresh ideas and perspectives, our collective dynamism, and unwavering commitment in the Forum.

It is only by including young people in the global health dialogue that we can truly reform WHO for a healthy future.

Prepared by

Ramon Lorenzo Luis R. Guinto (Regional Coordinator for the Asia-Pacific),

Maria Lioni Kusuma Tatang, and Kai-Yuan Cheng

in behalf of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA)

on the occasion of the 62nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific,

October 10-14, 2011, Manila, Philippines

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