World No Tobacco Day

Around the world, medical students are celebrating May 31st as World No Tobacco Day. Under the theme “cigars for apples” they are organising local, national and international activities to promote a healthy lifestyle without tobacco.

Students from seventeen different national member organisations are collaborating on a project that addresses the problem of tobacco consumption on different levels.

They created a video to educate the public about the health risk associated with tobacco smoke and the effectiveness of tobacco control policies. A second video shows medical students from different countries promoting the idea of “cigars for apple”. This joint effort shows that future physicians are worried about the on-going tobacco epidemic and call for the implementation of tobacco control measures as suggested by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Furthermore, on May 31 medical students in several countries are organising community outreach projects. They are setting up stands at public places such as shopping centres and universities where they educate the public about the health risks of tobacco consumption and provide the opportunity to exchange cigarettes for apples as a reminder of the health benefits of a life without tobacco.

As a closure of the project, smoke free parties are organised by the medical students. These parties where participants voluntarily decide not to smoke underline the importance of creating smoke-free public spaces.



According to the WHO, every year almost six million people die of the consequences of tobacco use- including about 600 000 non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke. Every six seconds a person dies due to tobacco, which accounts for one in 10 adult deaths. Up to half of the current more than a billion smokers will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease. Low- and middle-income countries are particularly affected by the burden of tobacco-related illness as 80% of smokers live in these countries.

IFMSA’s perspective

Still, only few people understand the specific health risks of tobacco use as studies show. Considering this, the IFMSA as the leading organisation of worldwide medical students acknowledges the central role that physicians play in educating their patients about these health risks as well as providing support for smokers who are willing to quit.

Up to now, health-care services supporting smoking cessation are only available to 14% of the world’s population.

Therefore, the IFMSA calls for scale-up of national health-care services to provide cessation assistance and counselling for smokers.

In the last years, the tobacco industry has attempted in several ways to undermine efforts to implement tobacco control measures.

The IFMSA urges governments to protect policies from tobacco industry interference and to accelerate the implementation of tobacco control measures suggested by the FCTC such as:

  • Adoption of tax and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption
  • Ban of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
  • Creation of smoke-free work and public spaces
  • Implementation of prominent health warning on tobacco packages

Only if the necessary measures are taken the global tobacco epidemic can be stopped.

Medical students worldwide are ready to trade “cigars for apples”. Are you?

Anna Klicpera

Director of the Standing Committee on Public Health 2011-12ImageImage

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: 

Written by: Christopher Pleyer, IFMSA President

WHA Day 3: Safe abortions and reproductive rights

Most days at the WHA start around 8 o’clock in the morning with a meeting with the whole delegation, and end at earliset around 12 o’clock with another meeting with the whole delegation. As did today.

After the morning meeting, us and Usman finalized our plans for side event on “How to accelerate the attainment of MDG5: new guidelines for implementation of sexual and reproductive health and rights” organized by HRP (the Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction) and the dutch delegation. Followed by some listening in to Committee A where nutrition was discussed.

The side event turned out to be a great succes. The speakers all held engaging and interesting speaches, however two of the speeches took a more personal approach. Dr Mbizvo from HRP opened up with a speech were he told the story about how he had met a distressed girl in the hospital corridor worried for her sister who was undergoing surgery after an unsafe abortion. Later he found out that she had died, and that she had never been pregnant, just had had an delayed period, an effect of lack of knowledge and unsafe abortions. Professor Faundes from FIGO told the story about how he as a junior doctor had been tasked to perform curettage (an old fashioned method on abortion) on women. The patients weren’t given anaestethics and when he inquired why the answer was that they were criminals and were to be punished.

The list of speakers all had powerful facts and stories to share with the audience. Despite these depressing highlights there was much optimism in the room. Everyone there agreed that this is a question of health not on ethics. The rates of abortion are consistent across all nations, but due to variation in access some countries have much higher rates of unsafe abortions and therefore more complications. 98% of the unsafe abortions are performed within the developing world.

Apart from presenting the new guidelines on abortion, HRP were also celebrating their 40th anniversary. IFMSA got the chance both to congratulate them on both, and also emphasize the importance of involving youth in the process as well as the importance of proper guidelines for us as future physicians to be able to provide access to sexual health services to our patients without fear of losing their jobs or of persecution.

The side event also gave IFMSA the opportunity to meet several externals that might be of interest for us in the future.

The day continued with another interesting side event about the private health sector were the importance of including it in discussions for global health was lifted, since the private health sector is a continuosly growing part of the health system.

Back at the hotel the day finished with a recap with the rest of the delegation, sharing and caring. Well done everyone!

Kelly Thompson (AMSA-Australia) and Désirée Lichtenstein (IFMSA-Sweden)