World Health Organization Western Pacific Region Internship

For the last three months, I was lucky to intern for the Tobacco Free Initiative in the World Health Organization Western Pacific Regional Office (WPRO) located in Manila, Philippines. WPRO responds to public health issues in 37 member states ranging from  China to Kiribati. WPRO also has various representative offices and country liaison offices within the 37 member states to facilitate, implement and oversee all the advocacies and programs. My department, the Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI), is housed under the Division of Building Healthy Communities and Populations and was created in 1998 to address and eventually reduce the global health burden caused by tobacco use. TFI’s main goal is to fully implement the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC). The FCTC is 

the first international treaty negotiated by WHO. Lucky for WPRO, all 37-member states have committed to the treaty to control tobacco use in their countries but WPRO still has a long way to go. The Western Pacific Region has over 430 million smokers, which is about 1/3 of the world’s smokers. This means that the greatest number of smokers reside in the Western Pacific Region. It is estimated that two people die every minute from tobacco-related disease and half of those deaths are caused by second-hand smoke. The shocking background information and its effect on the Western Pacific Region continually enticed me throughout the internship and made my desire for change even greater! 

If you have not noticed already, WHO loves acronyms and it took a whole month for me to truly learn all of them! Without getting too in depth about my work with TFI, I learned how WHO functions as an organization while discovering more about my strengths and weaknesses. Most of my work involved analyzing statistics on tobacco prevalence for the Mid-Term Review on the Regional Action Plan for TFI. The ultimate goal of the plan is to obtain a 10% reduction in smoking rates across the the region by 2014. I vigorously and patiently worked on several tables and graphs for the report. My department and I created drafts after drafts and eventually produced a close to perfect document that was presented at the Mid-Term Progress Review of the Implementation of the Regional Action Plan for the Tobacco Free Initiative, which was my first contribution to a WHO conference! I quickly learned the various administration procedures and was able to play a key role in providing information to the country officers in attendance. 

During my internship, I experienced my first WHO Day where I sang nervously in front of all the WPRO staff then gluttonously ate a buffet of food representing all the 37 countries in the region. It was amazing to see the fun and non-work related side of the WHO. Lastly, I met the most fascinating people whether they were other interns, technical officers or secretaries. These people automatically became friends and made each day a little better than the day before. I am so excited to see the rest of the interns become future leaders in the public health! Hopefully, I am right up there with them! 

Intern Lunch with WPRO Regional Director, Dr Shin Young-soo

The WHO internship has confirmed my interest in a career in public health. It has fueled my desire to learn more about how we can help others around the world especially the less fortunate and undereducated. My belief that sustainable programs and education are the two keys to improving health in developing countries was strengthen by my work with WHO. As I leave the internship and the Philippines, I take along with me a new confidence! I successfully was able to adapt to a whole new lifestyle in a different country and absolutely fell in love with it. My eyes have seen more of the world and there is no stopping now. My passion for humanitarianism is the driving force to not only learn and talk about making a difference but actually taking the ideas and turning them into action. The saying that “the world is your playground” is truly resounding in my life at this moment.

I sincerely thank all the people who made this internship possible for me! Thank you Dr. Tamplin and Dr. Wipfli for whole heartedly opening doors for me and making this internship a reality! Thank you to my family who constantly support me throughout everything! Thank you to all the WPRO staff especially Dr. Mercado and James for making me feel more than just an intern! You are a big reason why I want to continue working in the Philippines and one day maybe even working for WHO! My advice for current undergraduate students and recent graduates can be fully explained in the following quote. Remember we can make a drastic change in this world with an open mind and heart! 

“I beg young people to travel. If you don’t have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack and go to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown, eat interesting food, dig some interesting people, have an adventure, be careful. Come back and you’re going to see your country differently, you’re going to see your president differently, no matter who it is. Music, culture, food, water. Your showers will become shorter. You’re going to get a sense of what globalization looks like. It’s not what Tom Friedman writes about, I’m sorry. You’re going to see that global climate change is very real. And that for some people, their day consists of walking 12 miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of that flight. A lot of people – Americans and Europeans- come back and go, “ohhhh.” And the light bulb goes on.” 

                                                               -Henry Rollins