Learning doesn’t have to come from a book

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This past week has been quite a whirlwind. As a non-official global health student (I am a pharmacy student doing a dual degree in public health with a Biostatistics & Epidemiology track), attending the World Health Assembly has been a dream, as well as a shock to see how much happens within the health arena that is well beyond clinical knowledge (i.e. policy, politics, partnerships, etc.). It would not be exaggerated to say it has been an overwhelming information overload. My classmate Liz fittingly described it as the law of one-thirds: 1/3 of the material we fully understand, 1/3 of the material we have heard of before but do not know much about, and 1/3 of the material we are completely clueless on. That being said, I have already had some amazing experiences thus far, such as connecting with many high level personnel (including getting a selfie with the CEO of Alzheimer’s Dementia International, the NGO that I am a student delegate for).

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Because my particular focus at this WHA is access to essential medicines, I have attended several events that have been related to access. Fortunately and interestingly, each event that I have attended has provided a completely different perspective on the same important overarching issue. “Regional Trade Agreements and Access to Medicines” emphasized the key role that the intellectual property law (i.e. the TRIPS agreement and Doha declaration) has on countries’ ability to ensure affordable access to medicines in their own regions. “Partnering for Impact: Addressing the burden of Non-communicable Diseases in Low-Income Countries” highlighted how partnerships, whether private-public or private-private, can be a win-win situation for both industry and global health. “Access to Healthcare: A Shared Responsibility (Focus on New Business Models for Access)” showed how a pharmaceutical company, such as Sanofi, can make such a huge impact on global health through its generous donation of treatments for sleeping sickness. “Health and the SDGs: Addressing Quality, Access, Accountability and Inclusion” demonstrated how access to medicines is not enough, but that ensuring that imported drugs are of high quality is as equally imperative.

Besides learning from the panelists and people that we have met with outside the events, I have also learned a great deal from my classmates, who all have diverse backgrounds and interests. Being able to share our experiences and what we learned from each event we attended really helps to solidify the material and create thoughtful discussions.

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I also was able to chat with a member (and the founder of his own chapter) of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) and learned a great deal from him about how to start and maintain a chapter at USC. It was inspiring to see how even as a software engineering student, he was passionate and driven enough to step out of his comfort zone in order to make a difference that can impact the health of millions of people across the world.

One of the key lessons I have taken away so far is how important it is for all health professionals to have at least some form of understanding of the other sectors that shape health for patients, such as structural barriers, sociopolitical constructs, and cultural education. This reinforces in my strong belief in interdisciplinary collaboration, particularly its integration in schools’ curriculum.

I am very excited for the next week of learning ahead, and for now, Fight On!

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Amy Nham is pursuing a dual degree in pharmacy and public health—with focus on biostatistics and epidemiology.

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

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