COPH graduate students take part in mock World Health Assembly

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Six USF College of Public Health (COPH) graduate students traveled to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in January to take part in the 2019 American Mock World Health Organization (AMWHO) Regional Conference. AMWHO puts on authentic simulations of the World Health Assembly, the sole decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Brian Richardson, Jianca Reid, Marlene Joannie Bewa, Carson Bell, Dr. Anna Armstrong, Caitlynn Carr and Oluyemisi Falope attend the AMWHO Regional Conference in Chapel Hill, NC. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Armstrong)

The conference brings together students of all backgrounds to discuss global health issues and collaborate to draft policy resolutions similar to the World Health Assembly itself. The goal, according to the organizers of the regional conference, is to “create an immersive experience where participants will have the opportunity to think critically about stakeholders and social, cultural, political and economic factors that impact health issues.”

The theme of this year’s regional conference—the first one the COPH has participated in—was the Global Food Predicament: Equity, Access, Transparency. Students were assigned roles as representatives of a country/region, industry (private or nongovernmental) or the media.

“I decided to take part because I have worked in Nigeria in an emergency health context with Doctors Without Borders,” said Oluyemisi Falope, who was a medical doctor in Nigeria and is now a COPH doctoral student concentrating in community and family health. “I was deployed in response to the malnutrition occurring within the internally displaced peoples camps. I felt my background and interests could contribute to the AMWHO conference.”

COPH students Oluyemisi Falope (left) and Marlene Joannie Bewa were two representatives of the AFRO region at the AMWHO Regional Conference. (Photo courtesy of AMWHO)

Day one of the conference was agenda setting and day two was resolution writing, which was done in the style of the WHO. On the last day students came together as a full assembly to vote on the resolutions and make amendments, all while following parliamentary procedure. Final resolutions that passed were sent on to the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

Carson Bell, center, votes in the assembly. (Photo courtesy of AMWHO)

“Students engaged in the real work of the WHO,” commented Dr. Anna Armstrong, an alumna of the COPH and an assistant professor of community and family health who traveled to the conference with the students to help determine whether starting an AMWHO chapter at USF would be worthwhile.

For example, students posing as executives from Nestle made a push for their powdered infant formula, which met with resistance due to the lack of safe drinking water in many areas of the world. Delegates from Egypt and its surrounding region were sent reeling when they learned that a (not-for-real) bioterrorist attack had contaminated its wheat supply and left 10,000 dead.

“Formulating ideas and policies, negotiating, convincing opponents, collaborating with allies, exploring funding mechanisms and adopting the position paper were critical parts of the conference,” said Uganda representative Marlene Joannie Bewa, who is also a medical doctor now pursuing her doctorate in community and family health at the COPH.

“I learned the value of creating sustainable projects and not giving up when the first idea failed,” added Jianca Reid, a student in the global health concentration. “That’s important, because in public health, there will be times when ideas will not come to fruition immediately, but with time and proper planning, projects can succeed.”

According to Armstrong, the experience allowed students to think locally, regionally and globally.

“They were able to navigate from the detailed needs of the community to the very real, broad, global implications of those needs at the policy-building level. Those skills will be applicable in any workplace,” she said.

In addition to making, amending and passing resolutions, the students were given the opportunity to hear guest speakers and network with public health professionals.

“I found the speaker and networking sessions really useful,” said Falope, “as I got to learn about the work and experiences of people in the field. I would encourage students, especially undergraduates, to take part in AMWHO so they can develop critical-thinking skills early in their careers and start to think and know they are part of the ‘solution.’ ”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health