WHA 68: You Medical Students Are Everywhere!

IFMSA’s meaningful participation in the World Health Assembly (WHA)

This is my first time at the WHA. I’ve heard about it from IFMSA friends that have been, I’ve been preparing, I had an idea of what to expect, but I couldn’t wait to be here myself to witness this event, learn about its intricacies and actively take part in the process.

Leading up to the WHA, the IFMSA delegation has been preparing; reading on our subjects and exchanging ideas. Our preparation for the WHA culminated by the pre-WHA. Four priorities have been defined and we’ve worked hard in the four streams: Antimicrobial Resistance, Human Resources for Health, Adolescent Health and Climate Change and Health. During the pre-WHA, we’ve been writing briefs and statements, identifying stakeholders and strategies to advocate for our priorities. We’ve also had experienced panelists exchanging with us and briefing us, from the WHO, the Geneva Graduate Institute and the Global Health Workforce Alliance to name a few.

Our colleagues of dental medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmacy and law, also joined us, uniting efforts to advocate for health and representing the voice of the youth.

At the end of the pre-WHA, I remember thinking: How did people do it before? How was it possible to be ready for the WHA without this essential preparation? As the pre-WHA was ending, we felt the pressure and excitement boiling up, motivated by the passion of students and our profound conviction of advocating for the health of all. We were finally getting to the moment we were all waiting for: the WHA!

And then it all started! The opening ceremony, Angela Merkel’s opening speech, Margaret Chan’s address to the assembly, followed by the running around, the networking and catching side events, sometimes having headaches having to choose between too many interesting events happening at the same time.

The continuing hard work of the IFMSA in the last years has given us great opportunities for this year. IFMSA is now known and respected by many. Some of the IFMSA officials have been invited as panelists, notably Arthur Mello (Liaison Officer for Public Health Issues), and Meggie Mwoka (Regional Coordinator for Africa). They have greatly represented us.

Attending the WHA, I have the feeling that for a rare time, this is where discussions leading to real results happen. In comparison to other international, more academic conferences, this is where decisions are made. Our work here can have a meaningful impact.

I am learning tremendously every day, finding myself filling in all the pages of my notebook. We’ve had the chance of assisting to technical briefings on various subjects and challenge the audience with questions and expressing our views through statements. During the technical briefing on Sustainable Development Goals, PAHO’s director, Dr Carissa Etienne, highlighted the importance of social inclusion and the impact of inequities on health and called for the importance of high quality Universal Health Coverage in the Americas.

During the briefing on Climate Change and Health, IFMSA made a strong statement, calling upon countries to put health at the forefront of the climate agenda. We also heard the deputy mayor of Paris stressing the essential role cities can and must play to fight climate change and the health co-benefits that can be attained. Furthermore, Margaret Chan, WHO director general, reaffirmed that this is the defining issue of the 21st century.

Ebola, as a major health event of the year has occupied a great place in the discussions. It is greatly inspiring that almost simultaneously, in to different events, representatives of the ministries of health of Liberia and Sierra Leone thanked the medical students for their participation in the response and for the Kick Ebola Out initiative.

We are having an impact here. Not only because we’ve been in the top 10 influence on Twitter for the last week using the #ywha hashtag, but also because of our active presence in sessions and side events. Magaret Chan even mentioned that we are everywhere and saluted our work.

My fellow colleagues also inspire me. Everyone in the IFMSA delegation is engaging with member states, meeting with their country’s delegation and seizing opportunities to meet with WHO actors and NGOs. It’s a great feeling to see young people from around the world joining forces, using their convictions, talent and determination to stand up for a better health for all.

As the WHA is already more than halfway through, we are doubling our efforts to wrap it up and attain our objectives. It doesn’t end at the WHA, the work done here will help IFMSA continue its work throughout the year advocating for health internationally and locally.

Entry written by Maxime Leroux-La Pierre, Member of the IFMSA delegation to the WHA68

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