Our group of MPH students came to the 65th World Health Assembly to learn about health diplomacy, to see how policies are discussed and adopted, and experience behind the scene negotiations between countries.
Professor Wipfli joked that most of the negotiations occur in the hallways, lounges and cafeterias of the United Nations building, but I realized that it is very much true. For example, I saw Benin’s Minister of health participate in an animated meeting for several hours at the “Bar Serpent” lounge surrounded by members of other delegations.
This experience is unique. In just a few days, we have talked to many senior officials of member countries and organizations. Those people are accessible and with a little bit of luck, good social skills and boldness, it is possible to ask them questions directly and obtain a more or less political answer on the spot.
The world health assembly is held in a very particular atmosphere and the protocol must be followed rigorously. I wanted to tackle this aspect of the assembly for a first post on this blog because these anecdotes are worth being revealed. Here are a few of them:
When a country wants to speak, they turn their country tag vertically, a staff member registers their demand and they are added to the list of speakers if time permits. If they are not seen, delegates don’t hesitate to raise their hand holding their tag up high.
Countries are allowed 3 min to speak. A light pole is standing by the podium and turns from green to orange to red as the allocated time diminishes.
It happens very often that a country speaks on behalf of others. During a plenary session, Congo spoke on behalf of sub-Saharan Africa, and Denmark spoke on behalf of the European Union.
It might seem trivial but perfectly knowing the protocol is very important to be successful and efficient in such assemblies.