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  • Jonny Meldrum 10:56 pm on August 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Inspiration in the IFMSA 

    Alice Cozens blogs on the inspiration imparting upon delegates of a General Assembly and the potential of the IFMSA to achieve great things.


    One of the most striking things about the IFMSA is the motivation, enthusiasm and wealth of experience that the delegates have. I look around and realise that as medical students passionate about global health we all have such huge potential to create lasting change not only for our communities but for the health of our nations and most importantly to advocate for those people who do not have a voice.


    As you can imagine realising this potential is not always easy but requires determination, persistence and a strategic approach but we are ALL capable of contributing to this and making our mark in the global mission we all share of removing the injustices in the state of our world’s health today.


    Each of us in Medsin has their own passion and part to play and we are strong because we are all working towards the same vision “a fair and just world in which equity in health is a reality for all”.


    My first experience of the IFMSA General Assembly was an open mic event for delegates to share their stories. It was a humble enough event but I was blown away by the incredible examples of students using their potential! I thought I would give you a snapshot to inspire you! The following quote was one delegate’s contribution to inspire us to be all that we can be:


    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”, Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3])

    Another delegate explored how ideas are viruses and that you need to get other people to share your view, then empower them to take action and before you know it ideas spread like wildfire.


    As this was the 60th anniversary of the IFMSA, an original member of the international committee was there who explained how it was a small group of medical students who had a vision for social justice in health and had the passion and naivity to believe huge change was possible. Now 60 years later, over 96 National Member Organisations are involved in incredible community projects, Accesss to Essential Medicines, Pharmaware, Think Global, Calcutta Village Projects, Healthy Planet, SKIP, Sexspression to name a few. We need to “be the change we wish to see in the world!” Ghandi.


    We were also privileged enough to hear first hand accounts of the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt by the delegates from these countries. It was awe inspiring how the people had stood up for change and this had led to the ousting of a violent dictator. Their messages were of victory and the power of our generation. They also called us to embrace the power of social media in eliciting change!


    Another particularly inspiring talk was from a delegate from Southeast Asia talking about the desertification of his homeland due to Climate Change. This personal account of what seems to us to be a remote issue was truly inspirational. This should fire us all up to take action through changing our lifestyles and working with Health Planet. Finally, every 2.5 seconds a child dies of hunger. Food inequities are a stain on the humanity of our generation.


    I guess what I personally took away from this was that whatever our passion may be we CAN make a difference. The issues of global health are about people and their welfare and we cannot stand by and do nothing. So find your passion, be inspired and take ACTION!!!


  • Jonny Meldrum 10:47 pm on August 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    IFMSA and their General Assembly? The low-down. 

    Paul Reidy has spent the last year organising professional exchanges between medical students in the UK and medical students overseas. At the GA this year the focus was on the inclusion of global health education within exchange programmes. Here, he blogs on Medsin’s successes and on what makes a IFMSA General Assembly what it is.

    Day 6 of the #ifmsaam11 has just finished and as delegates pack their bags, say adieu to newly made friends and dream of sleeping for an uninterrupted 8 hours, it is also a good time to consider the week that has been.


    An IFMSA GA is no ordinary week. Bringing together almost 1000 students from across 100 countries, a GA is a period packed with standing committee time, lectures from eminent speakers, workshops, training sessions and of course plenary. Sure some of it is overly political and petty, i.e. every voting session, but the real value of what goes on here is to be found amongst the people. You will be pressed to come across a more passionate, determined and enthusiastic bunch of students anywhere. For example: in Tuesday’s project fair hundreds of projects from across the world exhibited their work and ideas. They ranged from local projects helping street kids in South America, to national sexual health education campaigns all the way up to international projects advocating on major health issues – our own Healthy Planet among them. These projects and activities are the backbone of IFMSA. They typify the potential of the federation and the great work that can be achieved when countries and students work together with a common goal.


    Another excellent example such collaborative work is the IFMSA exchange programme. As National Exchange Officers for Medsin-UK both Charley attend the Standing Committee on Professional Exchange (SCOPE) while at the GA. This committee, the IFMSA’s largest, administers over 4000 bilateral exchanges i.e. involving 8000 students, across 90 countries and offers students the chance to experience learning medicine in another country. One of the UK’s primary aims in this committee is to enhance global health education within exchanges and to that end we have run a small working group on the topic and spent the week talking to other NEOs and convincing them of the benefits of incorporating global health. We have had a very positive reaction and were very pleased to discover that many countries had already adopted our global health themed logbook while countries new to SCOPE, including South Korea, have requested us to help them develop global health as a major theme from the outset. This type of outcome would have been a far-fetched dream when I first got involved in SCOPE but it just goes to show you that with passion and persistence anything is possible.


    That same message emerged from Prof. Sir Marmot’s talk also. As blogged by Alex, he gave an inspiring talk on the social determinants of health covering everything from taxation, obesity and social movements. A key point he reiterated again and again is that we currently have both the knowledge and the means the close the gap in health inequity across the globe. The only question remains – what do we have in our hearts? A critique of the IFMSA that has often been levied against it by Medsin-UK is that it is not sure what it is trying to achieve. While Medsin has a distinct vision and mission, which all its members are committed to achieving, the same could not always have been said of the IFMSA. Yet things are beginning to change. The words advocacy and campaigning have become vogue words but importantly they have also been backed up with action e.g. the forthcoming week of action on the social determinants of health to coincide with the world conference in Rio de Janeiro. Medsin has been a major driving force for this change. If we use our passion and a global network the possibilities are endless.


    The IFMSA is not perfect – no global forum is. However, the delegates at a GA are certainly more passionate and enthusiastic than any within a UN forum. This differentiation is what gives us an edge and as we leave Copenhagen and return home it is imperative that we seize upon this fervour and spirit and use it, both to illicit change on a local level while also continuing to drive for the same within OUR international organisation – a federation of medical students with the potential to do great good. As the 60th anniversary celebrations come to an end it is intriguing to consider where the organisation will be within another 60 years if it embraces the immanent change being driven by progressive NMOs such as Medsin. In the interim we must continue to capitalise upon the passion and zeal of the majority of delegates who take a week out to attend each assembly. As each member of the Medsin AM11 delegation would testify – it is the people that make the IFMSA assemblies what they are and it is what we can achieve with these people, either through inspiration or collaboration that truly matters.

    Such is the true value of the IFMSA and we should not forget it.

  • Jonny Meldrum 10:34 pm on August 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    The Global Focus on Non Communicable Disease – Is it misplaced? 

    Alice Cozens is the President of Bristol Medsin and led a working group on Non-Communicable Disease at the General Assembly. She blogs on the potential conflict in focus between infectious disease and NCDs on the international agenda.

    According to the opening speech of the conference by a WHO representative “the main challenge of Public Health in the 21st Century is addressing Public Health Inequalities”.

    Infectious diseases still remain a huge public health issue in low income countries. However, the UN High Level Meeting on Non Communicable Disease taking place in October 2011 and the publication of the Global Report on Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in 2010 illustrates a recent shift in focus from Infectious to NCDs within global health. This has lead to some debate, not least because there have only ever been two high level meetings of the UN on health at all. It has therefore been questioned whether a high level meeting is justified and what the motivation has been for it?!

    The continuing call for further funding in the fight to treat neglected tropical diseases and mental health issues (as presented at the GHC 2011, Cambridge) could be seen as conflicting with such a focus on NCDs. This has been a controversial issue and having attended the Standing Committee Sessions on Public Health I felt it would be good to discuss this issue as the programme for SCOPH has concentrated on NCDs.

    Although I was sceptical about why SCOPH was looking at NCDs and presenting examples mainly from the European Region, I have been convinced during my time here of its importance.

    The highlight of SCOPH has been Sir Micheal Marmots address on the Social Determinants of Health. He addressed a question often raised against his hypothesis of improving social determinants across the socioeconomic groups, namely that we should concentrate on absolute deprivation. He argued that health inequities are a gradient and there is no way to make a distinction between the socioeconomic quintiles when addressing the social determinants of health. Instead we should be improving social determinants across society.

    He mentioned three strategies; social justice, material, social and political empowerment and to create conditions for people to take control of their lives. Interestingly he said that the approach of the Commission on the Social Determinants of Health is ideology with evidence.

    The only issue with the focus on the burden of NCDs is that I struggle to see the ideology, although we have the evidence. Maybe that is because we think of the stereotype that diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory infections and cancers have of being awkward to treat and much less glamorous than other diseases?

    What Sir Marmot’s talk made me realise was that the actions that we need to implement to address Non Communicable Diseases line up with those actions to address the social determinants of health. This gives me the ideology of social justice that I need to be passionate about addressing NCDs.


  • Jonny Meldrum 8:26 am on August 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Anya Gopfert on her inspirational last day 

    Anya Gopfert blogs on her inspirational last day at the IFMSA General Assembly, where she had the opportunity to spend the morning with Dr Francesco, the deputy director for the Partnership on Maternal and Child Health. Just one of the many opportunities that present themselves to delegates at IFMSA GAs.


    I’m going to be greedy and blog twice, only that I had such an inspirational morning I wanted to write about it.

    Today I met Dr Andres de Francesco, the deputy director for the Partnership on Maternal and Child Health, to discuss the IFMSA’s commitments towards reducing maternal mortality. Along with two other members (Anne from the Netherlands, and Unni from Norway) of the Small Working Group which has been working to create a policy statement on Maternal and Child Health, we had breakfast with Dr Francesco. I have to admit, I was a little starstruck – he was an extremely genuine guy, who was more than happy to answer all our questions, and he seemed very down-to-earth, yet he is a very important person at the WHO, and has worked all over for very important people.

    Together we conducted the first SCORA session of the day – we presented our Policy Statement and Dr Francesco presented the Global Strategy on Maternal and Child Health. We then had a two hour meeting to discuss what IFMSA is going to do – essentially conduct a survey of maternal health on the curriculum of medical schools with the highest burden of maternal mortality.

    The morning finished by us all having lunch together – where conversation centred on the many different ways you can sleep in a hammock, depending on where you are. I learnt how to avoid getting a sore back, and the best way to hide yourself from mosquitos!!

    All in all a pretty informative morning, meaning that I finished the GA on a complete high with lots of exciting ideas of how I might carry this forward. Hopefully all meaning that next year as Policy and Advocacy Director will be productive…thanks to Alex for all her hard work this year!

  • Jonny Meldrum 1:55 pm on August 6, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Social determinants of health infiltrate the IFMSA 

    Alex Elliot-Green is the outgoing Policy and Advocacy Director and this her last General Assembly. Here she blogs on Sir Michael Marmot’s talk on social determinants of health and more.


    Over recent years rumbles and interest on the importance of social determinants of health and health inequalities has been a growing undercurrent of consciousness within the IFMSA.  The small working group on Social Determinants of Health, headed by the enthusiastic Renzo, is becoming more and more popular. Its members’ message is simple: ‘eradicating health inequity should be at the core of all IFMSA activities’, for Medsin-UK members this may seem stunningly obvious, however this was music to my ears.  It’s easy when involved in large organisations, such as the IFMSA, to get consumed in the bureaucracy, by-laws and internal politics. However that statement jolted me back into reality and reminded me the reason Medsin-UK attends IFMSA-GA; to form links and combine efforts with fellow students to advocate for: ‘A fair and just world in which equity in health is a reality for all’, Medsin-UK’s vision.


    My increasing excitement climaxed today with the standing ovation to Sir Michael Marmot closing statement, stressing the importance for medical students, the IFMSA, to stand up and take social justice seriously. Predictably, from the beginning of Michael Marmot’s presentation the UK delegation were out in full force listening with bated breath for snippets of inspiration and wisdom to be ushered out of the chair of the WHO on Social Determinants mouth. We were not disappointed. Amongst his clever quips and engaging presentation the key tenant was clear; our society is unequal and this has a monumental and detrimental impact on health.  In addition he reinforced that it is our responsibility as health professionals to do something about it.


    Yet, as I suggested before far better than hearing Michael Marmots speech, was the way in which his message was received, people were excited, outraged, enthused wanting to know what they could do to start tackling these issues. Discussing practical solutions, how to advocate and how to ensure their governments listened to this message.  After about 1hr of questioning the session wound down, in which Medsin-UK delegation couldn’t resist a sneaky photo opportunity with the man himself, before Renzo and the small working group on Social determinants of health, announced there plans for a week of world action ‘Root Out, Reach Out.



    This isn’t the usual photo opportunity that medical students are keen to participate in but this is a week where a coordinated effort combining advocacy, education and action… sound familiar? This plan for a week of action has been one of the most positive steps I have seen within the IFMSA, giving I.3 million medical students the chance to stand in solidarity and make our voice be heard.

    So watch this space as the IFMSA becomes a force for global health equity!

    Alex Elliot-Green


    • philambrit 3:49 pm on August 6, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Very good to hear about medical students taking social determinants seriously.

  • Jonny Meldrum 1:53 pm on August 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

  • Jonny Meldrum 1:16 pm on August 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Anya Gopfert blogs on what she’s been working on at the General Assembly 

    Anya Gopfert is the new Policy and Advocacy Director for 2011/12 and at the General Assembly is working on the Standing Committee on Reproductive Health and AIDs. Here, she blogs on her experiences thus far:

    Hi, I’m writing to you from Copenhagen AM2011 and i am currently sat in a pit of beanbags and lego which has become an arena for serious political discussion! I am attending SCORA (Standing committee on Reproductive RIghts and AIDS) along with Jamie Yeats. So far this week we have been engaged and entertained by a broad range of topics from a stimulating debate about Porn and it’s connotations, to training on how to advocate and campaign on issues from within SCORA.
    I have just come form the contract fair where Charley and Paul (our National Exchange Officers) are working hard to sign contracts for exchanges in the upcoming year. It is a hive of activity and buzzing with excitement: people chase each other round with gifts, offering enticements to go to their country. I see Tunisians clutching tightly to beautiful rugs, given away with each contract signed, and  the waft of Saudi Arabian coffee draws me over to their table. Stickers, Badges and bracelets are flying around the place, and I leave with a stomach full of yummy treats, a bag full of keyrings and banners, and a henna tattoo decorating my hand.

    Today, I conducted a Small Working Group on Maternal Health, along with Anne from the Netherlands. We had a group of really interested young women, who are all keen to go on to campaign in their respective countries. I think we all left feeling very motivated about some concrete action that IFMSA may take towards achieving MDG5, following on from our draft policy statement on IFMSA’s commitments to Maternal Health.

    One of the most interesting sessions I have been able to attend here in Copenhagen was a debate on Limited Resources in fighting diseases. There was a representative of Glaxo Smith Kline who presented Imagine 2.0 – the new ‘perfect’ HIV treatment that GSK is working to create. He went on to discuss how GSK is giving medicines at cost price to developing countries, and offering it’s employees 6 months paid time to work in countries with a high HIV burden – perfect, no?
    When questioned by Medsin-UK (Alice Cozens and Alex Elliott Green) regarding GSK’s stance on the Patent Pool, the question was avoided, and when we homed in on him before he left, he danced around the question, and took our email addresses. Translated: “GSK is already doing it’s duty for the developing world and doesn’t see the need for the Patent Pool.”

    Tomorrow brings….Sir Michael Marmot, and some other very important sessions….(putting policy statements to the pit of hungry lions…)

    Anya Gopfert

  • Jonny Meldrum 1:01 pm on August 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Ben reports on talk of revolutions in Humans Rights and Peace sessions 

    Ben has been working with the Standing Committee on Human Rights and Peace. This year an enormous new area to learn about is the revolutionary spirit sweeping many parts of the World, with the opportunity to hear from medical students intimately involved in revolutions in their own countries. We are currently engaged in a project, recording interviews with revolutionaries here in the IFMSA, to bring back to the UK.

    The Tunisian and Egyptian delegations have been enthusiastically sharing their experiences of the Arab Spring revolutions. So many of us in the UK were utterly gripped watching the events unfold in the media, and it really is amazing to meet people who saw their dictators forced out of power in a matter of weeks. Delegates have given talks about the passion for change that the protesters had, the power people have when they work together and about how social media allowed entire populations to communicate and organise.

    The sharing of ideas and experiences from the revolutions is souper significant given the range of countries represented at the assembly. Many students from repressive regimes elsewhere in the Middle East and Asia have clearly been inspired by what they have heard about Tunisia and Egypt. Undoubtedly it has given greater hope to delegates with undemocratic governments.

    Last night we had a cultural show where national delegations performed traditional songs, dances and plays from their countries. The Tunisians had a fantastic performance, a play about their revolution set to music. After a huge round of applause and cheers from the audience, I asked a man from another Middle Eastern country whether his delegation was going to perform. This was his response:

    “No, we cannot perform, our government will not let us. If they find out that we did a song or a dance, we will not be able to return home. But another year we will be able to, we will have our own revolution one day!”


    I’ve been attending SCORP sessions, the Standing Committee on Human Rights and Peace. There is so much enthusiasm from individuals whose governments have no regard for human rights. A number of delegates have been involved in promoting human rights in countries where such action can easily land you in jail, or worse. There are some really brave people at the GA, its moving to hear them talk about the projects that they have set up and, run, despite knowing that they are taking huge risks.

    Ben Kerr Winter

  • Jonny Meldrum 12:42 pm on August 4, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Maya, director of Healthy Planet, on a ‘green’ conference and more 

    Maya Painter is the global director of Healthy Planet and she sits on the Climate and Health Council. Both organisations work in conjunction to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on health and lobby health services and government. Here, she blogs on efforts of the organising committee to lower the carbon footprint of the conference and her experiences with Healthy Planet and work on the standing committee for public health (SCOPH).

    After all the great things I’d heard about the Think Global Pre-GA, I have been a little disappointed that climate change and health hasn’t featured more prominently within a conference themed ‘health and the future’! However, my disappointment didn’t last long after the great reception which Healthy Planet received during the Projects Fair. We spoke with over 100 people from around the world and over 50 people have signed up to our mailing list. We’ve also had our first ‘in person’ transnational meeting, with representatives from Australia, Austria, Germany, Norway, New Zealand and of course the UK. Particularly encouragingly, I’ve also discovered environment and health campaigns from around the world which I’d not been in touch with before, such as ‘the environment campaign’ from Kuwait.

    Aside from the Healthy Planet based activities, I have to take my hat off to the GA Organising Committee who have made a sterling job in making the August General Assembly as environmentally friendly as possible. There is no air conditioning throughout the building (despite slightly unfortunate unusually warm temperatures), all the delegates are staying in a hotel which has won awards for being ‘green’, everything is recycled and there is no bottled water or plastic cups for hot drinks.

    Additionally, a large proportion of the food is vegetarian and two days have been completely meat free. This has been particularly controversial, and today Elly was told repeatedly that several girls were “GOING TO DIE” if they had to eat any more vegetarian food as apparently humans ‘need meat to stay alive’. (Medsin-UK has been unable to verify the medical basis of ‘severe malnutrition’ caused by a two-day meat free diet).

    For those not involved in Healthy Planet, I’ve also had a great time at our early morning SCOPH sessions (Standing Committee on Public Health), where we’ve learnt about the harmful effects of drinking and particularly advertising for alcoholic products, as well as several sessions on Access to Medicines. Later of the week we have Michael Marmot coming to speak on the Social Determinants of Health which I think has all SCOPHians very excited!

    So that’s all so far- tomorrow brings the Health Planet Project Presentation- slightly nervous as will be talking to a very large room full of hungry carnivores!

    Maya Painter

  • Jonny Meldrum 7:19 pm on August 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Karin Purshouse has served as the Medical Students’… 

    Karin Purshouse has served as the Medical Students’ Committee chair of the BMA for the last year and has a strong background in healthcare education and policy. Here at the General Assembly she’s working on sharing best practices in campaigning on medical education. Read on for reflections on these experiences including thoughts on the reluctance of other IFMSA branches to be seen as political bodies.

    As the BMA Rep for the UK Delegation, it’s been a privilege to see how medical students can affect change at an international level.  My first couple of days at the IFMSA August Meeting here in Copenhagen have reinforced how important it is for medical students to advocate, educate and campaign.
    Mike and I represent the UK in the Standing Committee For Medical Education (SCOME).  We spent the first day setting the scene and sharing medical education initiatives and projects from around the world, including the Global Health Education Project in which Medsin have been particularly influential.  The Director for the World Federation for Medical Education gave a very engaging talk about international accreditation of medical schools – essentially, a means of quality-recognising medical schools that have reached an internationally agreed minimum standard.  It is food for thought that medical students all over the world are equipping themselves, both linguistically and logistically, to move across borders as doctors in a way that we don’t in the UK.

    Today we discussed how to set up a SCOME Project through SWOT analysis and SMART goals, and I worked in a small group with delegates from Iraq, Switzerland, Chile, Estonia and UAE to develop a project plan for student mentoring.  It struck me how at BMA conferences we vote regularly to improve student mentoring schemes and it is one of the main areas the Welfare subcommittee have been looking at – and we can share the lessons learned to help countries with no student mentoring or buddy schemes to develop something they can use immediately. So if you’ve ever wondered ‘who cares’ about that motion you wrote about better peer-led student support – yes, your medical school does, but so does the international community!

    I attended an Access to Medicines Theme Event yesterday, but I’m going to park reflections on that in favour of the Policy Writing Training Session that I attended today.  With delegates from all over the world sharing how they develop and enact policy, it was a real eye opener that so many medical student associations are a-political to the point where some don’t want to develop policy and don’t want to take policy to the politicians.  We are lucky to have the freedom in the UK to use policy in the political arena if we need to.  I feel that to succeed in our aims and goals for global health, we must be willing to take the issues to the policy makers in Westminster.  We’re developing UK policy about the Right to Research coalition, which we want to support and engage with; check it out at http://www.rightoresearch,org.  Discussing the issues faced in other countries, we all agreed in the training group that medical students have an important role in advocating for these huge issues facing the world.

    So many reflections, so little time!  As a first-time IFMSA-er, I am blown away by the friendly, open nature of everyone I meet, and the whole UK delegation is working really hard – particularly Elly, el Presidentina, who is working her socks off in the President’s Sessions.  We will be wearing our Union Jacks with pride this evening!

    Karin Purshouse
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