A new Master in Global Health is opening next fall in the Global Studies Institute of the University of Geneva and I happened to meet someone really interesting who could tell me more about this field. Indeed, Aymen Meddeb, aged 25, medical student in Berlin and currently intern at the World Health Organization, is the president of Young Leaders for Health.

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  •  Tell us about your organization? What does it imply? Who composes it?

Young Leaders for Health is a newly founded students and young professionals’ initiative. It  aims to create an interdisciplinary space for exchange of experiences and learnings in global health. Unlike Public Health, there is no broad consensus on what delineates global health and its scope. Experts are still arguing the nature, the mission, and the implications of this new field. Young Leaders for Health aims to facilitate the participation  of youth in this ongoing debate and play a role in shaping this new discipline.

We are currently a small, yet, enthusiastic group of people from different backgrounds. We share the same vision in aspiring to achieve global health equity through promoting participatory practices and empowering young people from the global south. We strongly believe those issues cannot be solved without engaging and collaborating with local communities.

  • On which basis did you create it?

The roots of global health are to be found in colonial medicine, a series of practices in which the concept of equity played no role, and in international health, which gained prominence through nineteenth century efforts to control the spread of epidemics between countries. It was a  precursor to this past decade’s increased interest in global health.

Let me support my assertion with a few examples: health was a central concern for European imperialism from the first seaborne expeditions to the New World, Africa, and Asia. Multiple expeditions attempting to penetrate Africa’s had failed, their members decimated by disease. The first successful voyage up to the Niger resulted in the  discovery of quinine, a plant extract that treats tropical fevers, and still recommended to this day by the World Health Organization to treat several forms of Malaria. Hubert Lyautey, a preceptor of colonial medicine and a key strategist in the French invasions of, at the time, Indochina and Madagascar, proclaimed that : “the physician, if he understands his role, is the most effective of our agents of penetration and pacification”.

In 1835, the British Empire commissioned a study on mortality rates among European descent and African-born troops stationed throughout the world. The results showed that African-born troops were much more resistant to life conditions in West Africa than Europeans. These statistics helped give credence to the belief that the black body was better suited for labor in hot climates than the white body. This theory contributed to the justification of the Trans-atlantic slave trade, which had enslaved more than 11 million Africans by 1870.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of stereotypes and bias in global health nowadays. We urgently need a tectonic change. We have to deconstruct a lot of stigmatization, preconceived ideas, and build the field of global health based on mutual respect, social justice and equity. I hope that Young Leaders for Health will contribute to this much needed paradigm shift, and play an important role in training and nurturing a new generation of global health champions.

  • Tell us more about your first project which is about to happen!

Our first global conference will be held from the 20th to the 23rd of August 2015 in Berlin. It consists of a young professionals-led Summer School and a Simulation of the World Health Assembly. This year we will address the issue of disaster and risk management in global health. The aim of the conference is to provide students from different disciplines with an overview of the main approaches taken in dealing with emergencies. This will be through workshops designed and led by young professionals representing global players such as the World Health Organization, Médecins sans frontières, World Bank, Red Cross, OXFAM etc.

Moreover, the WHA Simulation will depict the level of complexity involved in Global Health diplomacy. The participants will debate the proposed solutions of the international institutions and draft a resolution that will be officially read and acknowledged at the World Health Summit 2015.

  • Which objectives would you like to fill up in long term?

The “raison d’être” of YLH is to train and connect young people fed up with a dysfunctional health care delivery systems and offer them a framework where they can share knowledge, lessons learned, and innovative solutions. In the long run, we aspire to reach all continents, connecting different cultures, promoting interdisciplinary and inclusive (horizontal) interventions to better prevent spreading epidemics, address social determinants of health, and promote the right to health as a powerful tool of development.

  • What would you say to our future students in global health?

Paul Farmer, one of the most inspiring and prominent figures in global health, stated that “equity is less the proverbial elephant in the room than the elephant lumbering around a maze of screens dividing that room into a series of confined spaces”. He continued by saying that “We are starting to lift our heads to see the entire room and the elephant in it ». We are fortunate to be a part of this emerging discipline, yet our mission is delicate. There are key questions which we must consider in moving forward. How can we promote health as a fundamental quality of livery and equity? How can we achieve sustainable development? A multitude of challenges are arising within the developing field of global health and Young Leaders for Health is working to equip young people with the knowledge, experience and critical thinking skills to best address them.

 

To know more about the conference and the whole organization, I invite you to visit their website: www.youngleadersforhealth.org. Registrations for their conference in August will start very soon. It makes me think of Model United Conferences experience but in a whole new area! We need more projects of this type, don’t you think?