WHO EBSS Day 1

The EBSS (Executive Boards Special Session) started with introductory remarks from the Director General (DG) and the member states. The DG had as always a bold and encouraging attitude towards the board members quoting:  

”… with this opportunity comes a heavy weight of responsibility on the shoulders of each and every one of us, as Member States and the Secretariat.” On an even more interesting note she said: “First, as I have been told repeatedly by ministers of health, as I have seen with my own eyes, WHO has staying power. The developing world is littered with the debris of short-lived  projects. But not from this Organization, not from your WHO. Second, WHO has respect. Our name carries clout. The world’s top scientific, medical and health experts give us their time and their wisdom with pride.”

Key Member States interventions focused on

  • Greater Member State financial involvement
  • Emphasis on the importance of NCDs in WHO priorities
  • Passionate intervention on the importance of SDH as one of WHOs core priorities.
  • Consensus on keeping the WHO as an independent governing body in global health free from the influence of the private sector.

A concrete action of this consensus was by dropping the idea of creating a World Health Forum that would have involved civil society organization and private sector interests.

In general very constructive environment where EB agreed and want to move forward with an extensive reform.

The first discussion item on the agenda was on WHO’s Programmatic work and proposed approaches to priority setting, meaning where the core focus of this organization will be in the future.  In the consolidated concept paper the secretariat recognized how action in five core areas – health development, health systems, health security, health trends and determinants, and convening for health – can address current and emerging health challenges.

The EB created a closed Working Group (WG) on the days end, led by the Norwegian EB representative Dr. Bjørn Inge Larsen, this WG is set out to discuss inputs given by member states and give advice on how to proceed.

Coffee breaks were very fruitful.  Alex and myself had the chance to briefly talk with the DG Dr. Margaret Chan who recommended us not to follow anyone’s path but to be bold and step forward. We also introduced ourselves to the head of the Brazil delegation, which was well aware about IFMSA, and it’s activities because of our delegation’s strong presence at the World Conference on SDH in Rio held just weeks ago. She even remembered the intervention done in Rio and acknowledged that there should be greater youth involvement and a stronger push towards the implementation of the SDH approach in WHO’s work.

Medical students were not the only students present at WHO EB Special Session. We also had a chance to meet, Sanne Tofte Rasmussen, the president of International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation (IPSF) as well as Luc Besancon, the Project Manager of International Pharmaceutical Federation. Lukas had a chance to meet with Sanne and briefly discuss our past experience in collaboration and our past memorandum of understanding, which expired this year. We even had a common project P Square under SCOME as well as commitments to share articles on each other’s publications and attend each others meetings. We both see that medical and pharmacy students have a lot of mutual areas of activities, especially when it comes to multidisciplinary communication in healthcare. Therefore, we will follow up on our discussion and work to deliver the partnership to a practical level.

We also attended a side event organized by the Permanent Mission of Germany on the financing of the WHO and lessons learnt from other IGOs. It was an eye-opener on the reality of the adverse effects of earmarked funding (voluntary/project- specific funding) and learning that IGOs are not able to cover the administration and overhead costs with the agreed cost recovery scheme. Although such funding is advantageous for the donor in terms of measurable outcomes, earmarked funding defines the priorities of an organization and thus can only be accepted up to a certain proportion of the total budget.

This first day of the meeting gave us a great overview of Member States’ orientation on the reform and it enabled us to clearly understand how an organization such as IFMSA can impact the reform process. Key areas were identified and an intervention was written in response of the day’s meeting and with tomorrow’s agenda in mind: WHO’s global health governance. The future is exciting. Unfortunately we were not able to speak the first day as the Chair had to limit the time. Anyhow we would like to share the intervention the delegation drafted with you:

”Dear Honorable Director General, Member states and distinguished delegates,

I am speaking on behalf of the International Federation of Medical Students Associations, an unique network of 106 medical students’ associations from 99 countries, representing medical students worldwide.

We medical students laud the WHO for having initiated this process of self-reflection, evaluation, and reform. 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.

We believe it is time for WHO and the member states to define its core thrusts, and therefore we agree with the proposed core priorities, 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.  

Today, health systems in low-and middle-income countries face a double-burden of disease; having to treat infectious diseases as well as preserving the continuity of care of chronic conditions. In high-income countries, there is an unequal distribution of NCDs and risk factor exposure in different socio-economic groups, seeing that risk-behaviour and disease burden increasing with lower income, education and other indicators for socioeconomic status. There is therefore a need to use a social determinants of health approach to ensure that health systems are able to combat NCDs in an adequate way.

Furthermore, future and current health workers are standout stakeholders in the role of convening better health. Where interested groups are coming together to consider policies, plans and objectives for health reform, it is absolutely essential that training and development pathways are included in the agenda. As we move into a globalized and increasingly connected world, our understanding of the determinants of health including Climate Change’s impact on health must move accordingly. A robust presence of global health; within the medical curriculum will be essential in creating ‘global practitioners ultimately resulting in better care for our patients and more equitable health worldwide.

In conclusion, we would like to remind the members states and the WHO not forget us young people, recalling the resolution passed by the 64th World Health Assembly on Youth involvement emphasizing the impact of youth in shaping public policy. We should not be seen as beneficiaries or recipients of health care, but as partners in health, as inheritors of the present global health system. Rest assured that we will offer fresh ideas and perspectives, our collective dynamism, and unwavering commitments.”

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