Youth at the World Health Summit

This past October, many health students and young professionals gathered in Berlin to discuss the most pressing global health issues together with politicians, members of the civil society and the academia.

They asked a very crucial question to some of the most proeminent global health figures of the 21st century: What is the role of students and young health professionals in global health right now?

We hope their answers will inspire you to do more, to do better.

The preWorld Health Summit was co-organized by bvmd, IFMSA, EMSA and UAEM.

Healthy Cities at the World Health Summit

Have you ever heard of what the Healthy Cities approach in the world of public health was? Take a look at this example from Stockholm:

I attended the World Health Summit and the theme of healthy environments was discussed in length during those very exciting days for global health. Especially, on the last day of the Summit, on October 22nd, two consecutive keynote lectures took place having as themes ‘healthy ageing’ and ‘healthy cities’.

The first one, with remarkable panelists from all over the world, addressed physical activity and healthy ageing from an individual perspective, and involvement of the population to actually practice daily physical activity, while it seemed so little to have a role on the motivation of each and every citizen. The second session looked at how to approach the community targeting automatically the general population and that, if considered by local authorities and governments, could be definitely well applied. An example from Warsaw was presented and some brilliant ideas came up having health as the main purpose: sustainable infrastructure, building standards, public spaces, parks, safe and accessible public transportation, urban agriculture.

On the other hand, we had some controversial comments from the audience that pushed me to some reflection. The first one, an employer from ‘Coca Cola’ that was wondering “how the company could promote more physical Activity and healthy ageing”. That was the right opportunity to respond ‘perhaps by reducing sugar amount in your drinks?’. The second was about how people feel more concerned when the money issue is brought on the table. If, for example, we could offer free passes to a fitness club with some benefits to employees from a company, it would be increasing the rate of physical activity for those employees. I have to say that it might be efficient to target the needs of the citizens, but we should be aware of the ethical aspect as well.

“And it’s not always because you choose to eat too much, it’s not because you choose not to do particular things from a personal perspective, but it’s because of the availability of things in your community” – Audrey Smith, MPH, City of Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion Community Health Services

The backbone: Globalization & Industrialized Countries
Globalization and industrial revolution have dramatically changed life in modern cities. Pollution, noise, overcrowding, traffic, insufficient access to drinking water and sanitary facilities, crimes and violence and quickly spreading infectious diseases are just a few of many dangers that urban populations have to face. This is where the healthy cities movement tries to counteract this development and promotes comprehensive and systematic policy and planning for healthy in urban areas. It represents an essential element regarding prevention and health promotion. An unharmful place to life is a prerequisite for a healthy development of mind and body.

This movement is partly rooted in a growing literature, ongoing discussions and several evidence-based research, such as a Lancet Commission, which was published in 2012 “ Shaping Cities for Health: Complexity and the Planning of Urban Environments in the 21st Century” (May 2012).

Many experts and eminent researchers have started studying the issue in depth. For example, Ichiro Kawachi, Chair, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, from Harvard School of Public Health, was interested in ” examining neighborhood contextual influences on health outcomes, including the impacts of local food environment and built environment characteristics on physical activity, obesity, and other health-related behaviors (alcohol & tobacco consumption)”, as he recognizes the major influence of neighborhood on health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has followed the trend and in 2013, focused its publications on healthy cities. Dr Alaa Alwan, WHO Regional Director of EMRO, has summarized in this very well-done video the key mechanisms of developing healthy cities: There has also been a big campaign in a city in Russia that illustrates very well the concept of healthy cities.

The process of creating healthier cities is a practical example of the effectiveness of partnerships between local governments involving different departments, residents, Non-Governmental Organizations, private sectors, community organizations, and academics. Every citizen can be, and should be, part of this movement.

Are you interested? Email or your SCOPH Regional Assistant to find out how you can get involved.

Skander Essafi
IFMSA Director of the Standing Committee on Public Health (SCOPH)

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

IFMSA Press Release, October 21st 2014:

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: