It’s the final day of our time in Prague, and looking back over the time I’ve spent here, it has been a real series of ups and downs. The UK delegation has split up to attend and run training in a number of the concurrent sessions, and I’ve been spending most of my time in the President’s and Management session.
Some of the main problems for me have included the huge overlap with the President’s Pre-GA training I attended prior to the last IFMSA meeting in Ghana, and the diversity of participants in this session, ranging from highly experienced presidents, to branch members who are just starting to get involved. This has made it difficult to cater to all participants, and to engage them in discussions, as there is little common ground. There have often been times where I’ve felt that I’m moving from group to group raising the exact same points, and others where I’ve found the conversations fragmented and confused, since participants have different levels of understanding.
Yesterday was particularly difficult. I was thoroughly alarmed to hear that the organising committee of this meeting (EuRegMe) had accepted funding from Pfizer. Whilst I sympathised with the financial difficulties the team had found themselves in, and appreciated their honesty, I was highly uncomfortable with this unethical funding, which not only contravenes Medsin’s policy, but also goes against the IFMSA’s statement of 2009. I felt I had to speak out, and made a statement on behalf of Medsin, regarding my concern about both Big Pharma’s involvement, and also the accountability and transparency of this involvement, in particular the fact that it was only being mentioned to us at this point. I called for increased support for organising committees, and a discussion of mechanisms by which we could prevent this situation from recurring.
Unfortunately, my viewpoint was far from shared by the majority of the session’s participants. The discussion which ensued demonstrated a general lack of understanding of the influence of Big Pharma, and the potential harm of their close involvement in medical student organisations. The majority of the countries present accepted funding from Big Pharma, or even the arms trade, but did not seem to feel that this posed any concerns. As I put it, when explaining the situation to a friend: “They’re not even Pharma-Aware, let alone Pharma-Free!”. Some individuals were openly hostile towards me and others reacted by unfounded and inaccurate comments about Medsin’s financial status. These reactions, and the lack of concern about unethical funding demonstrated by my international colleagues distressed me, and I was also frustrated by the lack of progress on this issue since 2009.
It’s difficult not to let today’s pharma discussion, and the sometimes hostile attitudes of other delegations, weigh heavily upon my reflection of the whole meeting. However, when I put these frustrations in perspective, I can see the impact that our team has made.
Friday was a fantastic day, not just for me but for our whole delegation. In the morning, Mike and I ran an 80-minute training session in SCOME, the Standing Committee of Medical Education, which was really successful. We focused on the topics of global health education, and how to advocate for change in your curriculum, and whilst not everyone was convinced by the arguments we put forward, the vast majority were very enthusiastic and keen to take the training back to their countries.
Straight after this we ran an advocacy and lobbying session in the President’s and Management Session, which over half the attendees engaged in, and later facilitated two small working groups within President’s, on “Communication with Externals and Use of Policy” and “European Regional Advocacy”.
Meanwhile the other members of our team were also super-busy:
– Hollie, in the Standing Committee on Reproductive Health and Aids (SCORA), ran a comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) session, forming an international working group to create a policy statement, adopt CSE within peer teaching and advocate to include CSE in national education programmes.
– Vita ran a Healthy Planet presentation in the Standing Committee on Public Health (SCOPH), inspiring 6 other countries to campaign upon climate change.
– Vita and Cam also facilitated a small working group planning advocacy regarding the effect of the economic crisis upon healthcare across Europe.
Recounting how much we achieved in just one day reminds me of the huge impact Medsin-UK, as just one of the forty-two countries in the European Region, can have, by actively engaging in meetings such as these. Medsin has fundamentally different aims, structure and activities to many of the other organisations here, and these differences can make collaboration challenging, and at times frustrating. However, the combined strength of our student organisations, and the potential of the IFMSA as a key actor in global health provide strong reasons for our continued involvement within this growing Federation.