WHA Day 4 – IFMSA co-Hosting a Side-Event on Social Determinants of Health


The first official side event at the World Health Assembly in the history of IFMSA – a success! Today, IFMSA advanced one step further in the world of global public health. We had the honor to co-host a side event on social determinants of health together with the government of the UK, the World Medical Association, the WHO Department of Ethics, Equity, Trade and Human Rights, as well as the WHO Unit on Social Determinants of Health.

In a room, in which no seat was unoccupied, and many people standing Sir Michael Marmot, author of the WHO “Marmot Report” on Social Determinants of Health, Dr. Ruediger Krech, Director of the WHO Department of Ethics, Equity, Trade and Human Rights, and Christopher Pleyer, President of the IFMSA, held a plenary discussion on Social Determinants of Health. No better time could have been found for the organization of the event. The very same day, a few hours following the Side Event the WHO adopted an amended resolution on the WHO Reform, including the social determinants of health into the reform process.

This was the time, at which the IFMSA was able to put itself in the spotlight of global health governance – live. Sir Michael Marmot himself, in his presentation mentioned the importance of youth and commended the pioneering role of the IFMSA on this topic as part of the youth. Also from the side of the audience the IMFSA received very positive feedback, both during and following the event. – Many were interested to join our cause and learn more about the way we work.

As the sun sets, the rooms of the Palais des Nations slowly empty themselves. This is however not the end. Social Determinants of Health will once more be put on the agenda for tomorrow’s sessions. We will continue to scout for the next opportunity for IMFSA to be at the heartbeat of global health.


Read the Full Text of the Presentation:

Ladies and Gentlemen,Image

On behalf of the IFMSA we would like to warmly welcome you to this event. We know your agendas are fully packed, I am extremely happy to see that so many are taking time for this topic. Within the next few minutes I would like provide a different perspective. A perspective from the youth and how we are involved in SDH.

The first question that needs to be addressed – WHY YOUTH? The answer is quite evident. Youth is an integral part of society in which not only almost half the worlds population is under the age of 25. Furthermore it is youth that will need to carry the consequences of the decisions that are made today. And it will be us that will have both adapt to this situation as well as continue the legacy that is being shaped.

With regards to the role of youth, that why I am really here today to talk about with you. I want to share examples with you how individuals can pioneer in driving change within communities  and societies. Finally, on a bigger scale, share how youth Organizations are unique and innovative in connecting, mobilizing and involving youth

IFMSA is a 100% student run federation and carries out hundreds of projects in the areas of public health, reproductive health, human rights and medical education. The core of the IFMSA constitutes of community based projects through our 106 organization on the local and national level, as well as training medical students to become involved and aware future health professionals.

Moving on to our actions on SDH. One of the most important things for us to identify off the bat, was that social determinants of health is not an invention of the past few years, but that they have always been there. Some of our projects, more than others had inherently already addressed certain aspects of SDH. For example our peer-based sexual education projects aimed at destigmatizing the social and cultural aspects of reproductive health. Other projects such as our climate change activities targeted environmental factors in health.  However the overall goal was to have a holistic approach to SDH. The key was that SDH is not a stand alone activity but that we needed to find ways to integrate SDH in our current activities and ways of working.

This is where our story begins. The story about IFMSA and SDH.

What inspired us to kick-off SDH was the upcoming World Conference on Social Determinants of Health. As a federation we wanted to prepare for this meeting beforehand, both in terms of the meeting itself but also in regards to our activities. In March 2011, 6 months before the World Conference, the IFMSA adopted a policy statement on SDH, which commited us to address this issue federation-wide.

What followed was creating a basis for us to work on. Working group dedicated to developing toolkits to create a knowledge basis within our members.  The full toolkit encompassed a series of documents. The most notable of these providing starter kits for setting up projects and campaigns on SDH on a local and national level. This entailed in depth presentations and documents for setting up workshops, as well as pre-written and translated letters to urge governments to take action on SDH.

We also published a series of articles, as well as on own campaign website, which you can see here.

After this stage had been completed we could finally start taking action. These efforts cumulated in a federation wide “Global Week of Action on Social Determinants of Health”. This Global Week of Action marked the implementation of the toolkit and resulted in our member organization carrying out a multitude of projects in all corners of the world. These activites reached from the previously mentioned workshops at universities, as well as addressing letters to government officials.

Speaking of the conference itself, we were able to send a full delegation to Rio. The main way how we act at conferences is to. We therefore try to make wide use of social media, such as twitter and blog posts to increase participation and interest of our members in SDH activities. In fact, as I am speaking our members are sending tweets about this event on twitter. One of the other big things we did was to present the students perspective on the Rio Declaration. This is the document that was handed out to you at the beginning of the session.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly we wanted to address the issue of sustainability. As a federation we wanted to ensure that this topic remains on our agenda for the upcoming years. Two months ago we set SDH as theme for our highest meeting, the IFMSA General Assemblies. At this conference, one year after the start of the adoption of the policy statement on SDH the federation once again went to a vote. This time SDH was moved to become an official initiative and focus area of the IFMSA, which lays the foundation for future work. This is where the circle closes and has eventually lead us here today… So what next?

As you can see the focus of our activites so far was on building capacity within our members. The next phase of this campaign will be to reach out into our communities and integrating the “SDH Approach” into our projects. Another way is getting other youth organizations on board. Medical students are only one part of youth and by bringing together individuals from different fields, we will be able to benefit from each others resources and experience. Lastly, the individuals involved in our activities, eventually will be sitting in your seats – casting the votes for your countries. If we can provide these people with a basic toolkit for understanding global health issues – what more can we ask for?

This is only one way of how youth can get involved and I am sure there are many other stories repeating themselves. The main point to make is that Youth can and is taking an active role in tackling global health issues.

We, as youth, see this event as an amazing opportunity for us and of course did not want to miss the opportunity to thank the UL Government for helping us realize this project today. Furthermore also the Commission on Social Determinants of Health and the WMA for their incredible support throughout this process.

As a closing we wanted to showcase our activities to you and show you on of our campaign videos on SDH. Enjoy!

Check out IFMSA’s video, created by the Global Health Equity Initiative: [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tqUfq0WlR4&list=UU6jOz7cfTERHeoFZDzXiJVw&index=7&feature=plpp_video]

Written by: Christopher Pleyer, IFMSA President

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