Working Together to Create Sustainable Change

This morning, 8:00 a.m. @ 5.24.16 Geneva, Switzerland, time, a call for youth empowerment and activism was declared by several impressive speakers at the NCD Alliance’s event.

From Bente Mikkelsen (WHO Global Coordination, Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs and United Nations Interagency Task Force on NCDs) to Sir George Alleyne (Pan American Health Organization) to Karen DeSalvo (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) and David Githanga (Kenya Pediatric Association)—the room was full of strong leaders on the forefront of public health, each stating that they need the youth of the world to care more about their health. One must wonder, though, what creative means can they muster to make an average 15 year old care about diabetes, cancer and other non-communicable diseases?


The topic kept coming around to exactly how NCDs can innovatively be addressed. Their theory is that there needs to be a cohesive approach by the establishment (governments/NGOs) and youth around the world. They need teens, 20-somethings and young professionals to forge a movement, a health revolution. Evidence-based, of course. During this meeting Marie Hauerslev of International Federation of Medical Students’ Association stated that youth are yet to be corrupted and young healthcare professionals are passionate and truly care about making a difference… young professionals have yet to put politics and economics ahead of ethics.

Do you agree with this? Do you think you can step up and join in the evidence-based movement towards a health revolution? ….

Yes, there may be particularly driven youth; however, the average sub-35 year old is typically more adept at feeling passionate about the here and now, not about diseases that may be killing them slowly. Thus, the trouble with marketing the relevance of NCDs to youth is the disconnect between what is their current reality vs the potential iceberg ahead. Buy-in is a distinctly crucial part of health interventions, hence the conundrum exists. The youth that does care about the big picture can then perhaps help create this buy-in by sharing their thoughts, sharing their voice, and taking advantage of social media to reach out to WHO, UN agencies, NGOs… they actually use social media heavily. They want to hear from America’s youth! They want youth to take part in their own health story.

Community- the keyword of the day at Day 2 of the World Health Assembly. Working from the inside out within the populations of interest was carried on from addressing the youth of the world to take a stand at the NCD Alliance Child event in the AM to the Women’s Leadership in Global Health event in the Afternoon. The Health Systems Strengthening: Women’s Leadership, Peace and Security event was held by the Women Leaders In Global Health Initiative. Dr. Margaret Mungherera, former President of the World Medical Association, spoke eloquently about programs that she has helped develop that were sustainable (a composite term of the WHA’s new era of SDGs). She described the empowerment of women in Uganda through education and training towards becoming health educators. These women would then take their experience and nourish their communities with knowledge. Dr. Mungherera stated that she believed that as a community, we all need to raise our daughters in a way that they believe anything is possible- that true change comes from addressing communities on a psychosocial level.

Health Systems Strengthening: Women’s Leadership, Peace and Security L-R: Dr. Laura Hoemeke, Professor Sally Theobald, Dr. Margaret Mungherera, and Honorable Minister Dr. Bernice Dahn.

The psychosocial level that Dr. Mungherera is referring to is reminiscent of social work theories. The idea that individuals, along with communities, are multi-dimensional and conflict arises when outside systems (schools, police, local and federal governments, etc.) do not maintain steady working order. This systems theory approach can help create an understanding of how each layer of the problem has an equal opportunity to repair the situation; however, until each piece comes together, the community will continue to lack harmony. Indeed, public health is moving towards an interdisciplinary approach that can more cohesively treat individuals and communities holistically. Gradually, the fields of public health, social work, business and economics are melding to address the multi-dimensional problems affecting communities across the globe today.

At 6:30pm, Sanofi led the “Access to Healthcare: A Shared Responsibility” event. Dr. Robert Sebagg and Dr. Suresh Kumar of Sanofi each spoke about the need to work through issues together in a cohesive, multi-dimensional approach. Dr. Sebagg spoke about the need to incorporate mental health into mainstream care as a significant sum of patients and communities face issues of comorbidity. Dr. Sebagg again brings to light the critical value of addressing care, whether individually, to a community or to a nation, in a holistic manner.

Access to Healthcare: A Shared Responsibility event 5/24/16 #WHA69 L-R Gregory Lee (MPH Student), Annette Trejo, MSW (MPH Student), Dr. Suresh Kumar, Cristina Gago (Biology/MPH Student) and Amy Nham (PharmD/MPH Student).

There is no clear answer to battle disease. The World Health Organization’s new era of Sustainable Development Goals are meant to create a lasting change in communities where interventions are applied. However, in order to create such goals, disease must be tackled horizontally, not in a traditional vertical fashion. “Persons as a whole are greater than the sum of their parts”- this well known quote stands true. All of the world’s developing countries that require the most aid have seen war and/or natural disaster, thus causing psychosocial issues, economic issues, health issues, structural issues, etc. It is impossible that systemic issues are only in the hands of the community, or only in the hands of local governments, or only in the hands of NGOs. It is true there is no clear answer; however, it certainly does lie in a model that brings the skills of various fields together in order to address the individual, the community, the nation from the inside out.


Annette Trejo, MSW, is a newly minted Master of Social Work and current Master of Public Health student at USC Keck School of Medicine.

The USC Institute for Global Health organizes an annual trip to the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the course “Global Health Governance & Diplomacy in Practice in Geneva at the World Health Assembly.”  This year, a group of 12 students are  embedded as delegates to NCD Alliance members at the 69th World Health Assembly May 23-28. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s