Global Health at the World Health Summit

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the World Health Summit in Berlin (Germany). The 4-day event reunites several stakeholders and global health actors from diverse backgrounds. It was impressive to see over a thousand participants sitting in one same room to hear some political and influential health leaders discussing the most pressing global health challenges of today’s society.

Not surprisingly, Ebola was on everyone’s lips during the Opening Ceremony. No one can deny that there is a political, public, social and economical crisis in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia; and if the crisis has demonstrated one thing so far, it is that more than ever the world is interconnected in a very very complex way and that what happen in one corner of the world can have major repercussions on the opposite side of the globe. Many people will say “this is global health, this is what global health is all about”. And they are probably partly right.

I would myself say that I am a global health lover – I love to look at global challenges from a health perspective, and I love to look at health challenges from a global perspective. I attended the World Health Summit because I wanted to hear about those global health problems and because I wanted to be inspired to act upon them. The idea of knowing that one can strive to seek for equity in health excites me.

But the World Health Summit taught me something else.

In the midst of all discussions, I found myself questioning the true meaning of global health. It is right that there is no common agreed definition of global health and that various members from the academia found their own description that would suit their personal work, their research, their practice. But I didn’t want to stop there, I wanted to look further.

I realized global health has became a concept way too easy to use. In one workshop, we found ourselves counting the number of times global health was said by the panelists. We stopped after an hour. We had reached 57 times. This mean that in this session only, the term “global health” had been use almost every single minute.

I was a bit shocked to realize that global health has became an “empty” word, way too easy to insert in a talk or a political intervention to sound good, fancy, up to date. It had became one of those things you say without meaning it or without understanding its full complexity and reality.

And of course, the story repeated itself over the course of my few days at the World Health Summit. The World Health Summit isn’t to blame for this of course, but it has provided the perfect political context for that to happen. There has been a lot of discussions lately about the concept of global health diplomacy, brought by Ilona Kickbush from the Graduate Institute – and health has make its way to the Foreign Affairs Ministries of many countries, Germany being one good example. But a part of me refuse for health to be completely integrated in the global diplomacy dictionary.

Global health is an interesting concept that sparks a strong sense of commitment and passion in many organizations around the world, as I have witnessed in recent years, and including in IFMSA. People, especially the youth, feel empowered by global health. They want to do and study global health because they feel connected to the global community. They know global health allows them to dare to dream about a society that is fairer.

However, I really would like to see more honesty so that global health doesn’t keep on loosing the meaning we had once given it and that has brought so many of us together.

Coming to those kinds of events give us hope that we are on the right path to become the global health leaders and advocates we wish to be. It is an humble experience to be able to share a plenary room with some of the most influential actors that are shaping the global health agenda from the academia, the private industries, the non governmental organizations – and I thank the World Health Summit for that. I truly believe it is our duty as students to take in charge our own education so that we are trained to face the most important global health challenges of today, such as the ebola crisis.

Youth Participants at the World Health Summit 2014
Claudel P-Desrosiers
IFMSA Vice-President for External Affairs

This blog entry is part of a mini serie on students’ perspectives at the World Health Summit 2014 in Berlin. Look at the previous post, Medical Education at the World Health Summit.

IFMSA Press Release, October 21st 2014:


Medical Education at the World Health Summit

“Medical Education has a common global aim: empower future physicians to improve the health of individual patients and their societies, recognizing the relationships between the two. Physicians in today’s interlinked and globalized world increasingly need an in-depth understanding of the complex interdependencies affecting health”[1].

These are words from the M8 Alliance outcomes document from the World Health Summit 2014, Berlin, where Medical Education was one of the priority topics that were discussed.

IFMSA was present during the several discussions that were related to Medical Education this WHS. Read below to find out more about what was discussed in the different topics

Global Health Education
It is always exciting to see global health education taking the attention of key actors from across the world, and the specific workshop on the topic at the World Health Summit was testament to the perception of global health as a key knowledge area for the doctors of tomorrow. Medical students and postgraduates alike took the opportunity to discuss the topic in the pre-WHS workshop as well. Discussion amongst the students included the advantages of cementing global health with the faculty, and not just from voluntary work by students, and also the best ways to deliver global health education as a core part of the curriculum, which is reflected by the IFMSA Global Policy in Medical Education. [2.]

During the summit itself, the global health education session was limited to 1 1/2 hours, however, the session will continue after the meeting itself as a working group will be created with the aim of developing a set of core competencies in the field of Global Health Education that every student should posess.

IFMSA has been working in the field of global health education for many years, with the most recent project involving a survey of medical students who have campaigned for more of the subject in their curricula. The coordinator of the small working group currently analysing the results of the survey was also present at the summit and was able to network with parties interested in our work to create a consultation group of experts to help guide this project.

Civil society mobilization for health
One of the topics that could not have been absent from a forum such as the WHS was the Health Workforce with a specific attention towards braindrain. The Global Health workforce crises currently developed to a healthcare workers scarcity of 7.2 million healthcare workers, for 80% of the population. The session recognized the need for a global commitment to strenthen the health workforce for all, as well as improving the working conditions for healthcare professionals as well as students worldwide, to prevent the workforce from decreasing even more. This was also addressed during the opening ceremony of the WHS, where three young leaders including IFMSA spoke out about their fears for healthcare and the need to act. The session recognized the need for civel society engagement and empowerment, as well as the role of and actions taken by medical students. [3.]

Social Accountability in Medical Education
The session addressed medicine as a public trust; society trusts medical professionals to place interests of patients and public above all individual doctors and the profession, setting and maintaining standards for competency, adhering to principles of professionalism. We have the obligation to direct educational research to comply with the concerns of the patients and communities that we serve. Medical students should be prepared for a diverse world to function in optimally and be able to recognize ethics issues. We looked into how patient can play a key role in education by creating a collaboration with them instead of a one way treatment relationship. We looked into how medical education is changing over the years, quoting Kr. Sethuraman: “Are we physicians of tomorrow tought by the teachers of today using the curriculum of the past”.

Outcomes of the meeting
The M8 Alliance concluded the closing ceremony with the following call for action:
→ A worldwide harmonized Global Health Curriculum for medical students should be developed to provide tomorrow’s physicians with the core skills and knowledge to take on a global interdisciplinary perspective on health and thus enable them to effectively meet the challenges posed to health by globalization on the individual, social and global scale.
→ In medical education emphasis must be placed on the social and medical determinants of health, public health and the prevention of diseases.
→ High quality education of other health professionals needs to be ensured and sustained.
→ Ongoing educational engagement with the general public regarding health literacy is an essential activity. It warrants immediate attention to empower the whole of society to interact with health systems to take responsibility for health.

Lastly, not only were we very pleased with a meeting such as the World Health Summit, which brings together leaders in academia and policy, took on the important topic of medical education and recognized the important of global health aspects related to it, we’re also very proud of the strong student representation present throughout the meeting. We’re looking forward to seeing the action points to actually be considered and placed into action, and we’re looking forward to doing our part in this.

Stijntje Dijk
IFMSA Liaison Officer for Medical Education Issues

Beth Thomas
Coordinator of the IFMSA Working Group on Global Health Education

This blog entry is part of a mini serie on students’ perspectives at the World Health Summit 2014 in Berlin. Come back on the blog in a few days for more thoughts!

— References —
[1.] M8 Alliance Statement 2014, World Health Summit, Berlin October 19 – 22, 2014, “Health is more than Medicine” –
[2.] IFMSA Global Policy in Medical Education – adopted AM14, Taiwan,
[3.] IFMSA Policy Statement on Human Resources for Health – Adopted AM14, Taiwan

IFMSA Press Release, October 21st 2014:

And It’s a Start: Greetings from IFMSA Team of Officials 2014/15

Get a quick overview of IFMSA here and read more about Team of Officials Meeting 1 here!

It has been more than two weeks now since we, the new IFMSA Team of Officials, have started our new term. We represent 25 countries, from the five different regions. Our strengths are complementary; our vision and objectives align; our passion and motivation are the same. We bring to the Federation a different set of skills and past experiences, which we believe are important assets for the next term. As the months pass, you will get to know us a little better.

A few days ago, we have met in Morocco for the Team of Officials Meeting 1 (TOM1). The TOM1 was held in the city of Kenitra, near Rabat, from October 1st-6th 2014. Those precious days together have allowed us to build a concrete Plan of Action for 2014/15, finding its roots in the Strategy 2014-2017 which was adopted at the August Meeting 2014 in Taiwan. This is the first time in recent IFMSA history that such a plan is build at the very beginning of the term, and we are very confident that this will allow the Team to work efficiently for the betterment of the Federation, while ensuring a smooth transition to the new leadership structure. We have also worked and discussed several other issues at the heart of IFMSA: you can read all about them in the Summary and Outcomes Report.

While building on what the Federation has successfully achieved in the past 62 years, we believe it is still possible to innovate, to increase even more our impact on the world, as we shape the sustainable and healthy future we want. IFMSA has this amazing capacity of bringing people together from all over the globe. We are committed to give the Federation the positive leadership it deserves and to focus on unity, as so to help create long and lasting friendships, international collaborative initiatives, open-minded and culturally sensitive future physicians.

So, here is to the greatest year of all. We are extremely excited to be your 2014-2015 representatives. We hope to connect with all of you and to live up to your expectations.

See you soon around the globe,

Your Team of Officials 2014/15


Team of Officials Meeting 1 | October 1s-6th 2014 | Morocco

Below, the speech read by Agostinho Sousa, IFMSA President 2014/15, during the TOM 1 Inauguration Ceremony

Dear Minister of High Education of the Kingdom of Morocco,
Dear State Ambassadors,
Dear WHO Representative in Morocco,
Dear Representatives of Intergovernmental Organizations,
Dear Mayor of the City of Kenitra,
Dear Official Representatives,
Dear Invited Guests,
Dear Representatives of IFMSA Morocco,
Dear Organizing Committee of the First Team of Officials Meeting for the term 2014/2015,
Dear IFMSA family,
Dear Team of Officials,

First of all, I would like to thank all of you for being present in this ceremony. Also my deepest thank you to the City of Kenitra for hosting us here today and IFMSA-Morocco for hosting our first Team of Officials Meeting of the term. This opening ceremony has a special meaning for all of us and for all the medical students worldwide.

The Federation, which has been established more than 60 years ago, will see one of the biggest changes in its strategic work and methods of the last 25 years. But before addressing the challenges ahead, I would like to give you a quick overview on the different areas of action of IFMSA.


I would like to mention the topics that will influence the life and work of this Team of Officials and the future of our federation: that is the implementation of the changes approved with global consensus, in our general Assembly August Meeting 2014 in Taipei, Taiwan.

This year, we will conduct a transition to a new leadership structure, a first concrete implementation of the 3-year based strategy of 2014-2017, a functional secretariat and a brilliant shift from Projects to the Programs system: those will be the exciting challenges that will mark our term and that hopefully will bring our Federation towards efficiency, while maximizing its capacity.

However, we cannot forget the global challenges that we are currently facing. We must ensure that our Federation continues to represent the views and priorities of medical students. We, as medical students, must take a more active stance on the problems that surround us all, not only at international level, but most importantly, on the local level. This is where we, the students, can have the biggest impact.

And taking this into consideration, we cannot forget to deal with the challenges and necessities of medical students. An uncertain future is around us: lack of employability; lack of financial resources to enter and continue medical studies; lack of postgraduate opportunities; burnout of students and healthcare professionals; lack of protection of students and doctors. Those problems are getting worse every year and it is fundamental for the Federation to have a closer approach to the interests and challenges of students and their future…since they will be one of the key stakeholders in the future of healthcare systems! Without motivated students, without motivated doctors, healthcare looses its efficacy and the ones that will face the biggest challenges are the patients, whom should be our main priority.

We also don’t forget important milestone at global level for this year: the implementation of the sustainable development goals in a post-2015 agenda. After years of consultations and discussions, the new development goals will hopefully be approved and be pushed forward by the international community. However, IFMSA believes in more concrete actions and will continue its work in the improvement of health worldwide. IFMSA hopes that any approved goal, will reflect a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity for all the humanity. We must understand that the successes are not measured by words, but by concrete and meaningful actions.

This is why we need not only the active cooperation from the Team of Officials, but also a meaningful participation from empowered and committed National Member Organizations. We know that in order to achieve that level of collaboration, we need to continue to nourish the trust between us and our members and I’m sure that this team will do all efforts to earn that trust.

Without further due, I would like to call the IFMSA Team of Officials for the term of 2014/2015, to take the oath and sign the minutes of the inauguration of this term.

Finally, I want to address our future Team of Officials.  We know that this will be a challenging year, a year full of possibilities! In your hands is the responsibility of changing the perspective on health worldwide. Always remember, that when you speak, you are speaking for students that go from Japan to Colombia, from Sudan to Kazakhstan, from Thailand to Slovenia. You have now even more power to change the world and I believe, that all of us together, will achieve great things this year. You were chosen because you the Federation believe that you have the best qualities and ideas to undertake this journey that will change your life. Once again, congratulations for taking this step forward and let’s start a new future for the health worldwide, today!

Thank you for your attention,

Agostinho Sousa,
IFMSA President of 2014/15