If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?

After a whirlwind of a first day of the assembly, our second day at the WHA began with a Committee A meeting which addressed WHO Reform and the agenda item: Programme and Budget. It was interesting to hear individual countries voice their approvals and concerns regarding the proposed documents. A common consensus among many of the nations who spoke is that there is a definite need for coordination and communication between the 3 levels of WHO.

The highlight of the day for some of the USC MPH students was the opportunity to speak with the United States Secretary of Health & Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. During our brief conversation with her, Secretary Sebelius mentioned that some top priorities of the WHA were noncommunicable diseases (NCD’s), obesity, LGBT issues, violence against women, and new and emerging viruses, such as H7N9. It truly was an honor to meet and interview such an influential leader in the field of health and human services.

Alicia, Ruby, Brittany, Allyson, & Trisa with US Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius

After speaking with Secretary Sebelius, we also had the opportunity to interview Dr. Howard Koh, the United States Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services. Dr. Koh shared his story of volunteering for the American Cancer Society for twenty years, completing medical school and working as a physician, and finally pursuing and completing his Master of Public Health degree at age 40.  Dr. Koh provided us with the words of wisdom, “Follow your passion.”  He emphasized that you can make a difference at any age, as the anecdote of his career highlighted, and encouraged us to passionately pursue our goals as we work to better the health of the global population.

We also found some time to interview Sir George Alleyne, who is the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region.  Sir Alleyne’s conversation with the MPH students was very informative and thought-provoking.  He left us with many points to consider as we continue to contemplate global health issues for the remainder of the week.  He stressed the importance of initiating negotiations between governmental health organizations and private sector health organizations on the basis of common interest–that interest being the ultimate desire to improve the health of the population. Sir Alleyne left us with an important item to consider throughout the remainder of the assembly, as well as throughout our public health careers: global health should be viewed as a field of practice and research directed at reducing inequities of health. He explained that equal access to healthcare for all people may be a dream, but it is a good dream. Sir Alleyne quoted the musical South Pacific‘s “Happy Talk”: “If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” These words will certainly stick with me, as I’m sure they will with my fellow MPH peers, this week, as well as for years to come, as I strive to create positive change and influence as a public health professional throughout my career.

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