Attending the 69th World Health Assembly has been an eye opening experience. We all knew it was going to be an overwhelming amount of information, but I don’t think any of us anticipated for this event to be so packed. In every room that I sat, every other person was an expert on multiple topics of global health which they had dedicated the better half of their lives to. In full disclosure, it was intimidating, humbling, and set the stage for what the world of public health looks like: a group of incredibly qualified professionals, trying to figure out the world’s biggest health/finance/resource problems in one week.
One of the things that really caught my attention was the financial aura that surrounded every topic and how much it was emphasized in every session I sat in. What was interesting was that I got two very conflicting points of view from the meetings and sessions. One side of the coin truly believe that helping NCD’s heavily relies on our compassion for each other as human beings, in saving lives and bettering living situations. In the session “NCD Alliance: Making the case for NCDs: Sustainable Investments, Smarter Financing”, Richard Horton (whom I am a big fan of) began the discussion with questions of the panel based on financial aspects of NCD control such as “where’s the money coming from?”, “What is the argument to take domestic resource mobilization seriously?” and ” Is there evidence for this connection between health of the population with economic growth?” But as the session progressed the conversation changed towards one of more sentimental value. More of the comments coming from the audience were about us thinking about who we’re targeting and that we are talking about people and sometimes finances don’t matter. Richard Horton concluded at the end with a list of words that described that day’s conversation, “Emotion, life, youth, champion, demand, activism, advocates, politics.” The conversation that happened that night was a testament to how many different hands are in the NCD pot and influence how finances are decided and how vague the edges are for this type of discussion, where the influence of one hand ends and another begins.
Later in the week, I noticed the other side of the coin on NCD Control: Pure financial negotiation and gain. When talking to Ariella Rojhani (Senior Advocacy Manager of the NCDA) and Cary Adams (CEO of UICC), they were on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of what they thought influences the progression of support for NCD’s. The view was that people don’t talk about emotions because emotions are not quantifiable. Everyone wants to save lives but that isn’t something that can be a strong motivator to create a real change in terms of NCDs. What really talks is money. If one can convince a high ranking official that he/she will save money on their efforts in bettering the NCD situation of their country, then there will be a real conversation around NCD’s and their effects.
Its very depressing to think that finances are the only way to influence the NCD situation of each country but unfortunately, it is an inevitable reality. The finances of a country determine whether it has the capability of hiring a specialized workforce, whether it will be able to train professionals, make a program available nation wide, get the newest technology, conduct outreach to all communities, or even get the right people on the job to write a policy action plan. This week was a lesson on a grim truth about the world of public health, a world in which even the most experienced group of people in the world still get stuck in their efforts due to funding and lack of resources. It was a good lesson to take away that as individuals keen to make a real difference, we all need to keep in mind that we have to have the skills and capabilities necessary to make influential connections who can make important financial decisions on a larger scale to help us achieve our goals for better health.
Parnian Khorsand is a Master of Public Health in Global Leadership 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 Health Assembly May 23-28.