It is amazing how for six intense days, a relatively small number of individuals meet in a small, very expensive city to deliberate on the world’s health issues. Health issues that impact lives not only for those in these discussions, but radiate out to every corner of the world.
The World Health Assembly (WHA) is merely the tip of the iceberg on the dialogue needed around real issues. There is only so much a group can do within the confines of the UN offices for a week. However, there are a myriad of opportunities to influence and chart the course of action between now and the next World Health Assembly in May 2017.
For a first timer at the WHA, it is easy to feel lost amidst the hectic schedule filled with Committee sessions (those that debate and approve resolutions) and many side events on various health subjects. The agenda of the day changes at a moments notice, and an attendee has to confirm every morning where and when their specific interests will be discussed. It spurred a mix of reactions from me throughout the week. But I can’t deny that the WHA was window of opportunity for new experiences that will hopefully shape my career.
Global Scholars ‘Meet and Greet Moments’
The WHA attracts all the top ‘giants’ in healthcare and disease prevention, since it is seen as the ultimate venue to formulate policy for global health. What a great opportunity for us as American Cancer Society Global Scholars and members of YP-CDN to interact, network and share experiences with Ministers of Health and some of the world’s most renowned experts.
Dr. Ophira Ginsburg, a Technical Officer for Women’s Cancers with the WHO, was a great inspiration to us. She challenged our team of young professionals working to fight the cancer burden in our countries-- Kenya, Nigeria and India-- to keep up our advocacy efforts and offered her in-kind support to our Global Scholars projects.
Staff of the WHO Global Coordination Mechanism on NCDs (GCM/NCDs), Dr. Bente Mikkelson and Dr. Guy Fones, spared time in their busy schedules to discuss youth engagement with NCDs. She spoke to us about the role of young people in advancing the NCD agenda, both locally and globally, and it was exciting to discuss how to continue to build a louder and more active community of young NCD champions.
Each of the scholars had separate meetings with their country delegates to discuss and deliberate several issues related to their projects on cancer control, and other matters of concern in their respective contexts.
Despite the NCD agenda items being among the last items for discussion, the youth made sure they were heard all throughout the week.
Youth Voices at #WHA69
Youth are indeed powerful voices in driving change, I will echo the words of Dr. Chan when she quoted The Lancet report, stating that currently there are 1.8 billion adolescents globally. As this group ages, their health will be affected by decisions that are currently being discussed. This alone highlights the importance of including opinions and views of young people in global policy discussions.
Our ally, Universities Allied for essential Medicines (UAEM), was a vibrant team I had the pleasure of interacting with. With a main focus on a global R&D agreement, they showed a real commitment and effort to lobby delegates to push for wide support to a R&D treaty that could expand access to medicines for the world’s population. During a cold, rainy evening, UAEM organized a demonstration outside the UN offices on the need to have affordable medicines to patients who are in dire need of them. At the end of it was a commitment to keep the fire burning. It was a sign that the movement for universal access to affordable medicines continues to grow strong. I hope any readers will join the movement with us.
During the breakfast side event hosted by the NCD Child on engaging the youth, civil society, and governments one of the selected panel speakers was a representative of the International Federation of Medical Student Associations (IFMSA). IFMSA represents thousands of medical students worldwide. They highlighted the importance of the involving the youth, who are more energetic, have more time, and have fewer binding commitments.
And of course, YP-CDN was also there to ensure the voices of young people are heard. We had been following closely the agenda items on NCDs, as well as those on access to essential medicines, with an agenda item on medicine shortages and ensuring access to medicines for children. Our team worked together to write 2 interventions, which were deliver at the WHA by our Global Chapter coordinator, Ishu Kataria. These interventions were possible thanks to our collaboration with Health Action International on Agenda items 12.4 and 16.9, Universal Health Coverage (Medicines) and NCDs, respectively. Read more about the interventions here.
These are just but a select of youth teams I was able to interact with at the WHA. To all of you out there: Keep up the good work, I definitely urge more young people and youth organizations to join the global health movement! Our health is our responsibility regardless of age -- let’s make our voices heard.
What's next post-World Health Assembly?
It’s a wrap for the 69th World health assembly as of May 28th. Several important resolutions were passed, while some still have to be reviewed by the technical committees. So what happens next?
Before countries send another team of delegates come next year, what is there to do? The drum roll to 70th World Health Assembly has already started. If more views are to be incorporated, the time to start is now. We are also heading towards another important event: the UN High Level meeting on NCDs in 2018. The work we must do is enormous, but each stakeholder and actor needs to play their role.
It is time to look closely at the 9 Global NCD Targets as set by WHO Member States and discuss each within our country contexts in more detail. Academics and researchers must collect and report baseline data for the targets, as much of the data is still missing. Patient advocates must tell the story of how a lack of access to medicines affects real lives. They know best where the shoe pinches, so we need those voices speak up and be counted.
As civil society, we have to be the watchdog as we move forward. Governments need to be held accountable to what they signed up for. Are they meeting their targets and what was their commitment? Other key sectors from finance, education, trade and agriculture should also rally together with the healthcare teams to ensure we move a step in the positive direction towards a healthy population.
Let’s all leave our cocoons and comfort zones, we must fold up our sleeves and accelerate our work.
I would like to applaud all the amazing individuals and groups that have already made tangible progress towards the fight for NCDs. We’ve made progress, but we are not done yet. Let's keep the fire burning.
Geneva is a small city that cannot accommodate all of the activists, academics, youth, and other stakeholders at once. That’s why we must take the fight back to our home countries. Your individual countries will be the working ground towards progress before the next Geneva meeting, and subsequently towards the UN high level meeting in 2018.
What's your pledge?
It is easy to say the government or various organizations will do the work. I challenge you reading this to decide: what is your commitment to the fight against NCDs? Share your commitments with us here via comments on the blog or over Twitter. Let's revisit the results of your commitments in 2018. Will you be proud to be counted in 2030 as someone who made an impact?