IFMSA at the 71st World Health Assembly – an intense global health immersion!

In May, 52 IFMSA members from 33 countries gathered in Geneva for the IFMSA Pre-World Health Assembly (PreWHA) event and the 71st World Health Assembly (WHA). The WHA is the largest annual meeting of the WHO, where Member States, NGOs and other stakeholders meet to discuss key global health issues and decide on the strategic priorities of the WHO. As one of the few youth organisations in official relations with the WHO, the IFMSA has a strong voice at this meeting. We seek to bring the perspectives of young people and of future health professionals to the table.

The PreWHA was an intense 4 day program of academic and social activities. The academic program was focused on four streams – noncommunicable diseases, antimicrobial resistance, universal health coverage and ending discrimination in healthcare. There was a mix of keynote lectures and workshops on these topics, as well as general capacity building in advocacy and global health governance. Some highlights included getting a taster into the important topic of healthcare financing from Dr Joe Kutzin, interactive roundtables with young and passionate advocates on how we can reduce discrimination in healthcare, brainstorming creative solutions to address the global burden of noncommunicable diseases, hearing from Michel Sibidé, the Executive Director of UNAIDS and also from Ms Helga Fogstad, the Executive Director of the WHO Partnership on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH).

Highlights of the social program included a traditional Swiss fondue dinner and a Scavenger Hunt around Geneva at sunset. There wasn’t a lot of time for sightseeing but we managed to see a lot of the most famous Geneva attractions in one evening!

For the first time this year, the WHO organised a fun run to be held just before the WHA. Often it can be so hard as global health advocates and health professionals to walk the talk and get active despite our busy schedules. With some shuffling of the PreWHA agenda, we (just!) had time to attend, with most delegates walking or running the 3km track. It was a great way to connect with other partners and friends in the global health community, see the lovely sites of Geneva, and also to show the world that the we are advocates for physical activity!  Our delegates had been preparing all week for the run, with our ‘HIT the Day’ morning workouts. Starting the day of learning after a refreshing workout is definitely the way to go! A huge thanks to our dedicated delegates who motivated us all to get active every morning.

Attending the WHA itself is a totally different experience. From the intimate environment of the PreWHA, delegates are thrown into a busy and hectic meeting with thousands of people. Between the committee discussions, plenaries, side events, delegation meetings and meetings with external partners, there is hardly a spare second! The WHA is held in the Palais des Nations, the United Nations building in Geneva. This beautiful building has artworks, statues, plants and even animals from all over the world, symbolising collaboration and peace between all people worldwide.

Delegates were encouraged and prepared to meet with different Member States to discuss key topics. After the initial nervousness of meeting a Minister of Health or other official person, often the conversation flows easily, and most people are very open to hear the IFMSA’s thoughts and contributions. Many delegates took the opportunity to meet with their own country’s delegation, and often discussed other issues such as the possibility of having a youth delegate attend meetings such as WHA.

There are many side events held throughout the WHA, which offer an opportunity for all delegates to learn more about current global health issues and hear from experts in the field. The IFMSA had a strong presence in side events, and IFMSA Officials spoke on a wide array of topics. All the delegates were proud to attend and support the Federation at these events, and to see the impact the IFMSA has externally.

Attending the PreWHA and the WHA is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is intense and exhausting, but provides such a valuable insight into the working of the WHO and the whole global health world. It is a great opportunity for IFMSA members to meet inspiring people working in global health, and a chance for them to hear what young people think on important global issues that affect us. We hope the IFMSA’s presence at the WHA continues to strengthen in the future!

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