66th World Health Assembly – Day 1

After 4 days on the Youth Pre-WHA, divided in small working groups addressing issues such as human resources in health, post 2015 agenda, maternal and child health / sexual and reproductive health, research and development, and non-communicable diseases, forty young people joined, today, the 66th World Health Assembly (WHA), in Geneva.

Hugely motivated to empower and engage youth throughout World Health Organization’s decision making process, we are striking in proving that young people are the present and future and therefore aiming to have a meaningful contribution on this assembly.

The day started early in the morning: by 7:30am we were gathering in front of the great, yet to be discovered, United Nations Office in Geneva. Serpentine Bar, our future headquarter, was the final destination, but getting lost before arriving was totally inevitable.

A short debrief on what we would be doing and the main survival kit rules were given by Roopa and Renzo. Loads of questions and last-minute issues were the scenario to leave to the Assembly Hall. Somewhere, somehow, in between between 3000 people coming from all regions and all disciplines, we would have to manage get a place on the first plenary meeting. We finally got a spot on the 6th floor and, from there, we saw the election of 66th WHA president, vice-presidents and Chairman of the main committee.

A forty-five minute closed access general committee meeting gave us the time to meet again at Serpentine bar, our headquarter. Update each other, grab some food, distribute each other through all events taking place were the purposes. A second plenary meeting, with a presidential address on the agenda, and the report of the Executive Board were the last points before the famous side events started.

With knowledge and skills from the Pre-WHA, and motivation to pursue our interventions, we headed to 4 different meetings: Medical human resources for health, public-private partnerships for addressing NCDs, emergency risk management for public health, and viral hepatitis were the subjects to intervene on. To be in these meetings is actually an awesome experience: you actually are where decision making is happening. Governors and NGO representatives from the whole world gather together to discuss a specific issue, with the knowledge and information that only individual experience can give. Having the opportunity to witness all this, and “take the risk” and have an active participation stating opinions and asking questions is of unmeasurable value. Different young people, on different groups, discussing different issues, were actually empowering youth, representing it to it’s highest level.

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Meeting on Medical human resources for health: increased medical education of high quality in sub-Saharan Africa

Meanwhile everyone starts to get hungry and is wondering how would lunch happen. Grabbing a sandwich in a 10 minute break whilst getting the opportunity to informally chat with health ministers from all around the world was actually a much more amusing experience.

The 10 minute break was literally 10 minute because the high point of the day was jut going to happen: Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General was soon to address the whole plenary on the official opening ceremony. Everyone was running round, finishing conversion whilst chasing a free chair that no longer existed. Down there, in the middle of a podium beyond a scary, huge, full hall, stood Dr. Margaret Chan, ready to start her speech. Starting by public health emergencies, including the recent examples of Coronavirus and H7N9, the importance of a clear, transparent and effective report of data was emphasized  Post 2015 agenda was, obviously, another key issue, the main idea being the health contributes to and benefits from sustainable development and is actually a measurable indicator of all other development policies. HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria were also addressed, with in update on the huge work that is already done, but also an outline on what yet has to be reinforced. NCDs were the last main concern of Dr. Margaret Chan, that clearly said that WHO will never be on speaking terms with the tobacco industry, as there are no safe tobacco products, but discussion should happen with other industries  as there are healthier foods and beverages and, for example, alcohol can, in some cultures be consumed at levels that do not harm health. All delegates should understand that conflicts of interest are inherent in any relationship in public health agency like WHO, but safeguards are essential. After such a strong, hard but amusing, realistic speech, the first meeting of Committee A took place, with the beginning of discussion on NCDs.

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Address of WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan at the World Health Assembly

Because this first day of the WHA was also the last day of the Youth Pre-WHA, we all met back at the Graduate Institute of Geneva for our losing ceremony. With the amazing presence of World Medical Association, who kindly offered us a closing dinner, we had the opportunity to hear Chris and Roopa’s closing speeches, as well as Dr. Cecil Wilson, President of WMA.

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Speech of World Medical Association’ President Dr. Cecil Wilson at the Closing Ceremony of Youth pre-WHA

Back to the UN, 4 more side events were the opportunity to advocate for youth. Human resources for health, in the context of Universal Health Care, air pollution, global governance in the pharmaceutical sector, and promoting global mental health were the issues on discussion.

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Meeting  on Human resources for health, in the context of Universal Health Care

An end of day debrief was the perfect moment to meet everyone and share the feeling on this first frenetic  huge, full day. A final update by Renzo ensured everyone was synchronized on what to do. Back to the hostel, small working groups on all subjects, in a relaxed mode whilst rechecking-in our rooms allowed the necessary chill for the group to be ready to, tomorrow morning, restart its journey through WHA!

Best regards,
Pedro Correia de Miranda
PorMSIC- Portuguese Medical Students’ International Committee

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