Geneva gathering sponsored by Sigma and World Innovation Summit for Health.
Preceding the World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly, a select group of nurses and midwives meets in Switzerland to become more effective health policy advocates.
As a member of the board of directors of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma), I recently had the opportunity to represent Sigma at an event associated with the Youth Pre-World Health Assembly (PreWHA).
As its name suggests, PreWHA precedes the convening of the World Health Assembly, the annual gathering of the highest decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO). PreWHA seeks to promote health advocacy by young people pursuing careers in healthcare. This year, as part of the Nursing Now Campaign, Sigma and World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), based in Qatar, sponsored 22 young nurses and midwives for a four-day PreWHA event held at the International Council of Nurses (ICN) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The Nursing Now Campaign, a collaboration between the World Health Organization and the International Council of Nurses, is run as a program of the Burdett Trust for Nursing, an independent charitable trust based in the United Kingdom.
So much energy
With so much energy emanating from sponsoring teams as well as participants, it was an exhilarating experience, and I have no doubt these young people will be among our future leaders. From nearly 800 applicants, 30 were chosen, though only 22 were able to make the journey. Participants represented countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and Oceania—for some, it was the first time they had traveled outside their country.
After introductions on Thursday, 16 May, we gathered again Friday morning for an icebreaker to help everyone jell as a group and create a sense of belonging. Following a few presentations, including my introduction to the group about Sigma, attendees broke into groups to discuss the value of international organizations and how they, as young leaders, could interact with them to bring about change.
Members of the group I was part of shared their experiences as nurses and midwives in their countries and how policy and regulation are managed—or not managed. Their stories were compelling, and afterward they were eager to share their discussion conclusions with the rest of the participants. Howard Catton, MA, BSc (Econ Hons), RN, chief executive officer of the International Council of Nurses, then introduced the work of ICN and its significance to global nursing.
Over lunch, they were introduced to Roopa Dhatt, MD, executive director and co-founder of Women in Global Health, an organization that strives to bring greater gender equality to global health leadership. Dhatt challenged attendees to prepare an “elevator pitch” to present to their countries’ health ministers when meeting with them at the World Health Assembly. Some were more successful than others in communicating effective messages within the one-minute time limit, and Dhatt quickly identified the pitches that were effective and ways that others could be improved. We all learned from the experience.
When that session concluded, we took public transportation to the headquarters building of the World Health Organization, disembarking at the Place des Nations, or Nations Square, a large park situated in the heart of Geneva’s international district. Located near the European headquarters of the United Nations—the other headquarters is in New York City—the square is famous for Broken Chair, a monumental wooden sculpture that commemorates victims of mine disasters.
Meet with world health experts
After clearing security, we met with WHO technical officers responsible for the organization’s health workforce, policy, and planning programs, as well as others who presented recently published reports on HIV/AIDS, antimicrobial resistance, and the state of the world’s nursing. In addition to Lord Nigel Crisp, MA, former chief executive of the UK’s National Health Service and co-chair of Nursing Now, and Barbara Stillwell, MS, executive director of Nursing Now, we were joined by a group from Shenandoah University in the United States that included a nurse, physician assistants, and pharmacy students.
The presentations were interrupted by the entrance of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, director general of the World Health Organization. Prior to his appointment at WHO, he was minister of health in his home country of Ethiopia and, later, minister of that country’s foreign affairs. After a brief introduction to the work of WHO, he opened the floor for inquiries. I was delighted to see the young nurses and midwives use the opportunity to ask insightful questions before he exited the meeting for other commitments. We felt so privileged to talk with him. After concluding our meeting, the participants continued to network with each other in more relaxed surroundings.
On Saturday, 18 May, our group met with the Federation of Medical Students Association and engaged in small group discussions on how to begin raising their young voices for global health and become more effective advocates. An expert panel was also available to answer questions on how to develop their careers in global and public health.
That evening, I attended a reception sponsored annually by Shenandoah University and the International Society of Telemedicine and eHealth, where I represented Sigma and the Nursing Now team. S. Yunkap Kwankum, PhD, chief executive officer of Global eHealth Consultants and executive director of the society, and Shenandoah University professors Michelle Gamber, DrPH, and Lisa Darsch, MSN, RN, also were present. The reception provides an opportunity for global health decision-makers and students from various healthcare professions to come together to broaden understanding of issues addressed by the World Health Assembly. The casual environment fosters effective student and professional interaction to further explore global health issues.
This year, Pape Amadou Gaye, MBA, president and chief executive officer of IntraHealth International, and several other notables were also at the reception, and it was an amazing night of diverse conversation. I was surprised and delighted to meet Elizabeth Iro, chief nurse of the World Health Organization and Nursing Now campaign collaborator, at the reception. I had the opportunity to talk with her about a range of issues, including the work of Nursing Now and the initiative’s next steps.
Walk the Talk
Sunday, 19 May, was dominated by “Walk the Talk: The Health for All Challenge 2019,” which involved distances ranging from 3–8 kilometers. Key goals of the event included 1) raising awareness of the work and initiatives of the World Health Organization and other global health agencies based in Geneva to improve global health; 2) engaging World Health Assembly delegates, the United Nations family, and the Geneva community in a celebration of healthy lifestyles and ensuring that all people can access health services they need; and 3) promoting health—particularly physical activity—as part of a healthy and sustainable future.
I was surprised to see some of the young nurses and midwives flagging en route, and I was keen to keep them motivated to finish the longest route! After that, we explored the city of Geneva and sat on the shores of Lake Geneva, surrounded by the spectacular Alps, including Mont Blanc and the Jura Mountains. Situated alongside the lake is a giant jet fountain, one of the tallest in the world, which symbolizes the strength, ambition, and vitality of Geneva and Switzerland. I also visited the old town of Geneva. The town—located high above the lake on a steep incline, where it overlooks the present-day city—is filled with historic buildings. It was a truly magnificent experience.
Reflecting and looking ahead
Visits to the World Health Assembly dominated the final two days, culminating in a debriefing at the International Council of Nurses. To bring together the art and science of their professions, the nurses and midwives who participated in PreWHA later gathered in small groups to draw pictures of their trip to Geneva and illustrate how their experiences—individually and as a group—would impact them upon returning to their countries. We even managed to celebrate our youngest nurse, Adetunji, a student from Nigeria, who would turn 21 years two days afterward.
Thank you, Sigma board of directors, for the opportunity to represent you and the organization in Geneva. I was honored to do so, and it was a privilege to experience such an amazing group of young people who are keen to take leadership roles in raising the profile of nursing and midwifery and to improve global health. RNL
Elizabeth Rosser, DPhil, MN, Dip N Ed, Dip RM, RM, RN, RNT, PFHEA, director at large (2015-19) on the board of directors of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma), is professor emeritus at Bournemouth University in Dorset, United Kingdom.