Mental health on agenda at World Health Assembly simulation

NorWHO/Niklas Heidelberg Wammen

Training activities and discussion were an integral part of the NorWHO simulation on 7–10 August 2013

Neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s should be in greater focus, according to students and young professionals from around the globe taking part in the Nordic World Health Organization (NorWHO) simulation on 7–10 August in Copenhagen, Denmark. The conference aimed to give participants the experience of being WHO delegates in a World Health Assembly set up, with mental health on the agenda.

The simulation explored the theme of mental health from the viewpoints of United Nations Member States, and actors such as nongovernmental organizations and pharmaceutical companies. In addition, the press was represented by participants in the form of NorWHO BBC and “The New York Times”.

Being organized into regional blocks, together with training activities and expert speakers, gave those taking part a broader outlook on the different actors in global health, and helped them to reach a final resolution. Participant Mikkel Meyer Christensen from Denmark, who represented the pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, was glad he attended the conference, which taught him about international relations and politics. “It is so much more fun seeing it played out in front of you,” he said.

The resolution reached at the conference will be put forward as part of the input from youth groups to the discussions on mental health at the next World Health Assembly in May 2014.

Mental health

During the conference, speakers from various professional organizations gave participants insights into mental health-related issues. “Health is more than physical,” said speaker Dr Matt Muijen, programme manager for mental health at WHO/Europe. Dr Muijen informed participants about WHO’s different roles in providing guidance worldwide and the multifactorial issues involved in changing health policies and creating progress.

The NorWHO final resolution addresses mental health issues such as stigma, mental health in emergency response, and substance use and abuse to name a few. The resolution calls for the creation of an international mental health fund and the recognition of mental health as an important issue for the next global development agenda after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015. Estonia representative, Veronica Pisinger from Denmark, said “The treatment of mental illness needs to be better financed and researched.”

A unique opportunity

Similar conferences have successfully taken place in Montreal and London. NorWHO is, however, the first simulation to include training workshops that introduced participants to global health diplomacy, advocacy, negotiation, lobbyism and communication. Zoe Kilbourne from the United States of America, representing Brazil, found the experience “unique” and “holistic” thanks to the conference set up.

The simulation provides an opportunity to “gain the full picture that you cannot obtain just from academics”, according to Gustaf Drevin, a student at Karolinska Institutet (KI) from Sweden, who represented Médicins Sans Frontières. As editor in chief of the KI student magazine, one of his goals was to report on the NorWHO simulation “for students of KI to open their eyes to more International endeavours”.

NorWHO organization

NorWHO was organized by the International Medical Cooperation Committee, which is part of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations. The NorWHO organizing committee included Danish students from various disciplines ranging from medicine to law and public health studies.