IFMSA, being active on the international scene as usual, has an exceptional delegation to the 28th Pan American Sanitary Conference (also the 64th World Health Organization Regional Meeting). Altagracia Mares de Leon (IFMSA-Mexico), Daniel Tobon Gracia (ASCEMCOL-Colombia), Sachalee Campbell (JAMSA-Jamaica), Reshma Ramachandran (AMSA-USA) and I are representing the IFMSA delegation at the PAHO Meeting in the hopes to represent and voice out IFMSA’s views on the WHO Reform, Child health, NCD strategy and the Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination.
Any WHO meeting has some sort of thrill to it. The first day, and even the first speeches, usually determines the direction that the conference will take. From Dr. Mirta Roses (Director of PAHO) to Dr. Margaret Chan (WHO Director General), the focus was not only on social determinants of health and the past progress of the region in terms of health outcomes but also about the post-2015 health agenda and how Universal Health Coverage needs to be at the forefront of global negotiations. PAHO is a very active Regional Office and it is very well respected by its respective member states. Looking at PAHO’s track record, we can observe that major trends emanating from World Health Assembly resolutions actually come from previous PAHO activities: NCD prevention campaigns, vaccination week, etc.
The question that remains is how to move past the Millennium Development Goals? Are Sustainable Development Goals the answer? Official UN processes are already in place for such goals to be formed, but do they really represent the importance of health? Through discussion with Dr. Margaret Chan today, we learnt that if health has a chance in being included within the seven Sustainable Development Goals, it needs to be a goal which encompasses many avenues and doesn’t exclude specific diseases.
According to Dr Margaret Chan, the answer is simple: Universal Health Coverage. It is broad enough so countries can specify their needs and what needs to be covered but, at the same time, it doesn’t exclude any particular disease group such as infectious diseases or NCDs. We all have come to realize that the best indicator for sustainable development is health. Growing economies are only prosperous if there is a significant trickle down effect which entails an improvement in the health of the general population. Hence, this is why health has become a major issue in the Rio+20 discussion this past June. We can no longer deny the multi-sectorial effect of health and the multifactorial factors on health.
Take NCDs for example: healthy lifestyles are promoted, laudable goal, but it is fairly unrealistic to the majority of the population at-risk of NCDs. NCDs are prevalent in populations that do not have a choice but to make the wrong choice. Most of the time it’s not a case of health education, it’s a case of unavailability of making healthy choices. Low-income parents can only feed their children the cheapest way possible; what if the cheapest way is having breakfast at a fast food chain? Can you blame the individual for feeding their children while managing to pay rent? What if their two years old child gets sick, how would they be able to pay for patented drugs?
Such broad questions demand an answer. At PAHO, Member States are determined to give a direction to such solutions, realistic or not. Only time will tell if we are on the right track.
Stay tuned for the updates of the PAHO meeting!
IFMSA Treasurer 2011-2012,
On behalf of the IFMSA PAHO Delegation