The 69th World Health Assembly has been inspiring on so many levels. As a public health student with a health policy concentration and no direct experience in global health I was skeptical about so many things at first. Could I keep up? Could global health really be more exciting? Would I take anything away from the experience? The answer to question number one is I learned a lot, but keep up not even close. The answer to number two is yes it can be more exciting as we truly have become an interconnected world. After examining question number three my answer would be that I now have a stronger appreciation for the field and I have learned that through complexity comes excitement. The first couple of days were really tough going into each conference room we would see another important executive, minister, doctor, director, midwife, director or politician. The people who have worked effortlessly to save millions of lives every year through their hard work. There was a lot of anxiety in trying to fit in with such important people. The part that made it worse was the idea that I would go into the conference room and be unaware of 1/3 of the things that were under discussion.
The week then took a turn for the better when I realized that, yes, everyone at the conference is beyond amazing, but no matter what they are human and are in the health field because they truly care about people. A great bond that is starting to develop between my USC colleagues and myself has led us to actually approach these amazing people.
Through small events called side events we were able to approach these people and be truly inspired. A couple of my colleagues and I were able to have a conversation with Damali Inhesiko one of the winners of the 2016 International Health Workforce Awards. Ms. Inhesiko is a Midwife working in a small rural health centre in Uganda. She is the only health worker at a facility caring for a population of 60,000. She handles all services needed by the community while still promoting community outreach and has singlehandedly improved the immunization coverage of her area from 60% all the way up to 90%. When talking with her you could truly hear the passion from the words, but also see the passion in her eyes. She was going to deliver the speech to accept her award later that night. I’m pretty sure she was looking forward directly with intense eye contact instead of the rest of the group for that purpose. But during her whole talk I was in complete awe; eye contact is more powerful than I ever could have imagined.
Later on Thursday we were able to meet up with the CEO of Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). Through this role he overseas the world’s major cancer societies. He told us about the politicking that goes on in the political world of the World Health Organization. A vote is not about an opinion on each separate measure, but on the grand scheme and negotiation. But when you do it correctly you do a lot of good so that all member states can benefit. Whenever I get the opportunity to listen to successful people I ask them what motto do they live by. He explained that even for him it took him until 27 to find the motto he lives by. His motto is “to be a positive impact on everyone you meet.” It is a decree that I plan to live by until I can figure out one that completely fits me.
This assembly has truly inspired me as many of us are on the same page of what we believe is the correct way to do things. Have integration, create strong partnerships, involve the patient, involve the community. There are differences between opinions, but everyone is respectful.
I’m truly lucky to be on this trip, having great colleagues from USC, learning more about healthcare, a beautiful city and amazing people. It is impossible to not feel optimistic about the world when you know there are billions of incredible people out there!
Gregory Lee is a Master of Public Health student at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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 Healt