reflecting on the ifmsa’s march meeting in accra, ghana

Posted by Marion Matheson

Wed, 14 Mar 2012

I’ve started this blog about a million times, but keep failing to actually finish it! The reason for this, I think, is that I just had such a fantastic week at the IFMSA March Meeting in Ghana, that I can’t quite figure out how to put it all into words!

I initially started the blog at the end of the Standing Committee on Medical Education (SCOME) session where I presented the draft policy statement on widening access into medicine. I couldn’t really finish the blog at that point because this work continued all week.

To be honest, when we initially saw the draft policy statement it was a bit of a mess. In the UK, we are fortunate to have such a professional approach to advocacy. For me, writing a policy statement is almost second nature, but it seemed that this wasn’t the case for many countries represented within the IFMSA. Very simply put, a policy statements needs you to:

1.     Clearly & concisely lay out the background & explain the problem (with references)

2.     State how your organisation feels about the situation or what it believes, and

3.     Call for what you want to see happen from each of the different stakeholders involved (eg. governments, medical schools, students).

With the backing of the larger SCOME group at the next session, our final policy statement was unanimously passed by the presidents a few days later. We now have worldwide policy calling for fairer access into medicine leading to a more diverse and representative medical workforce!So after many hours in a small working group and with input from the UK, Australia, Canada and some of the European countries, we produced what I think was a pretty good looking policy statement calling for fairer access to medical education, specifically focusing on socioeconomic status.

Much of our work within the BMA’s Medical Students Committee (MSC) is focused on widening participation into medical school so I’m very proud of what we achieved in Ghana (I was part of the Medsin-UK delegation as the BMA’s MSC representative).

Part of that smaller SCOME working group will continue to work online drafting other fair access policy statements for the August IFMSA meeting. To begin, we’ll probably look at the effects of ethnicity (particularly for indigenous populations), living rurally, physical & psychology health problems, and caring for dependents.

The second time I began the blog (rewording it of course – this happened each time) was after a workshop on advocacy and how to lobby your government that I ran with Chris from Germany. It was reassuring that having jotted down what makes a good campaign from my MSC viewpoint, I cross-referenced my plan with the brilliant Medsin presentations on these topics, and they were almost identical. Seems that once again Medsin-UK & the BMA’s MSC are on the same page! I did question how much those countries like the UK actually took away from our workshop, but certainly we had some great feedback from countries in South East Asia and the Middle East. In a way, the fact that the presentation was so well received means that medical students across the world still have a fair way to go to advocate for global health & student representation as best we can. Surprisingly some medical student organisations even actively avoid getting involved in politics! But as Virchow once said (& which was oft quoted during the GA):

“Medicine is a social science and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale. Medicine as a social science, as the science of human beings, has the obligation to point out problems and to attempt their theoretical solution; the politician, the practical anthropologist, must find the means for their actual solution.”

I don’t wish to negate my experience at the IFMSA’s March meeting because I had such a wonderful time, both during the day and at the evening socials, but I’m afraid to say that there was one very disappointing moment of the meeting; the moment when the IFMSA did not pass the policy statement calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. While on the one hand the IFMSA had uniformly rebuked the human rights abuses in Syria, we hypocritically could not agree to call for basic human rights to be upheld for a subgroup of our population. As the global youth and as future doctors advocating for our patients, in my mind it is vital that our representation, the IFMSA, leads the change we need to see happen and does not simply uphold the global status quo. We should be the instruments of change pushing for equal access to healthcare and the universal human right to good health regardless of one’s sexuality. It was an upsetting moment, to say the very least, especially since the theme of the meeting was “youth and the social determinants of health”.

The final false start to this blog then occurred at Accra’s airport, about to fly home & began: “I sit writing this at the airport  – inspired, motivated & exhausted! Very expensive airport-bought plantain crisps are helping with the fatigue.” (I lie, I had also tried writing this during the final plenary session, but a talented Scotsman kept reading it over my shoulder which was rather off-putting.)

And now here I am, back in Bristol having slept most of yesterday and with a 10 hour sleep last night. Reflecting on the week just passed, I think it was the people I met who made the biggest impact on me. If I was feeling a little hug-deprived before my first IFMSA general assembly, then my ‘hug reserve’ now runneth over; the warmth and kindness I encountered from people I’d known for so little time was overwhelming. And the passion with which some students speak is truly inspiring! We are so lucky to have amazing, selfless future doctors committed to improving global health.

Medsin-UK, you can be proud to have been internationally represented by a remarkably dedicated,  well-informed & hilarious delegation. From an external BMA point of view, I felt that Medsin-UK was definitely one of the leading organisations at the assembly in each aspect: advocacy, action and education. To give you some examples to back up my claim:

1.      Hollie & Matt’s presentation for Sexpression was awarded the runner up prize,

2.      Sarah-Jane lead on the IFMSA’s statement against the human rights abuses in Syria,

3.      Mike & Jonny are both running incredible transnational projects, and

4.      Between us all we ran or gave discussions, presentations, workshops & training on numerous aspects of global health, advocacy and education!

So thank you to everyone I met at the March meeting who helped make it an unforgettable week. Thank you to the brilliant Medsin delegation who I can’t wait to see again soon. And thank you to my inspirational MSC co-chair, Elly Pilavachi (also the outgoing Medsin-UK national coordinator), who not only held down the fort at home during a frustrating period of Lib Dem inaction on the Health & Social Care Bill, but who also prepared me brilliantly for what to expect and encouraged me to put myself forward & get involved in the March meeting as much as possible. I hope I have represented the BMA’s Medical Students Committee to the best of my ability and I look forward to collaborating with new national and international friends.

 

Marion is Co-Chair of the BMA Medical Students Committee (along with former Medsin-UK National Coordinator, Elly Pilavachi) and is also a medical student at Bristol University.

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