Australian Medical Students attend the IFMSA 66th General Assembly in Montenegro
The International Federation of Medical Students Associations, or IFMSA, was founded in 1951 in response to the overwhelming global challenges following World War II. Committed to the ideals of the Alma Ata Declaration and “Health for All” (2007), the founders believed that medical students should not be passive bystanders, but rather, use their ability to create lasting and meaningful change through collaboration and innovation. Today, the organisation represents over 1.3 million medical students from over 122 countries worldwide, with the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) having been part of the organisation for many years.
The IFMSA is involved in a wide range of global health advocacy, public health, primary health and clinical health projects. This encompasses training arms, medical student exchange programs and collaborative public health projects. There are several standing committees working within specific areas of global health, including Public Health (SCOPH), Sexual and Reproductive Health (SCORA), Medical Education (SCOME), Human Rights and Peace (SCORP) and Professional and Research Exchanges (SCOPE/SCORE). The IFMSA is also divided into regions which allow for effective collaboration across geographically similar areas, such as the Asia Pacific Region, of which AMSA is a member. The IFMSA offers the opportunity for all Australian medical students, through AMSA, to be involved in student activities on an international scale.
Most recently, AMSA sent a team of 14 Australian delegates to attend the IFMSA’s 66th General Assembly (GA) in Budva, Montenegro, from March 2-8, 2017. The team was led by Julie Graham, AMSA Global Health’s Vice Chair International and acting IFMSA Australian President, along with Liz Bennett, AMSA Global Health’s Chair. The General Assembly is likened to an international version of an AMSA Council in which policies are discussed and debated, changes to operational processes are made, new member states are voted in and prepared statements are read. Most of these processes take place in plenary sessions, where Julie and Liz represented Australia on issues relating to medical education and general global health.
Along with the plenary sessions, each standing committee also conducts their own parallel SCORA sessions for members. The Australian members were divided between many of these half-day standing sessions, which allowed the Australian team members to think about being part of the global health community and how IFMSA projects could open many doors on this level. Other key components of the program include joint sessions between standing committees, National Member Organisation meetings and plenaries, where delegates participate as guests to support and advise the delegation leaders.
This year’s GA was marked by several significant achievements by the Australian team. Most notably Australian student Charlotte O’Leary was responsible for the Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Youth Caucus, which lead to the creation and adoption by the IFMSA of the “Budva Youth Declaration: A Call to Action on Non-communicable Diseases”. Charlotte has just completed a 3-month internship at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva and was appointed by the IFMSA to organise and moderate the NCD-themed events. AMSA Global Health Chair, Liz Bennett, was also one of the panellists amongst many prestigious speakers and discussed the linkage between nutrition, food systems, and NCDs. The Youth Caucus formed the key components of the themed events on NCDs. It was opened at the IFMSA GA opening ceremony by Dr Bente Mikkelsen, Head of the WHO Commission on NCDs, and was followed by two panel discussions.
AMSA was also represented at the IFMSA GA Activities Fair, where over 150 projects worldwide were featured and discussed with delegates. Three Australian projects were presented, including Project Burans, presented by Prerna Diksha of Melbourne University, Crossing Borders, a National Project of AMSA Global Health, presented by Aysha Abu-sharifa, and AMSA’s Newcastle NewGHC presented by Adelaide Pratt (Logistics Convenor, AMSA 2016 Newcastle Global Health Conference). Project Burans is a philanthropic mental health initiative of the Emmanuel Hospital Association, the largest non-governmental provider of healthcare in India. It won second place for founder Prerna Diksha and other members of Melbourne University, out of almost 150 other entries!
Participation in both policy writing and review represents a significant opportunity for involvement in any IFMSA GA. Julie Graham, delegation leader, was a member of the Policy commission team for the IFMSA Rural Health Policy, along with 2 other international team members. This policy received input from around the world prior to the GA, including ample suggestions from Australian medical students. The Rural Health Policy was one of 12 propositions that were successfully passed during the plenary policy session.
The Pre GA provides a great opportunity to work with and get to know a smaller proportion of students attending the GA. Medical science student, Stormie de Groot attended a Pre-GA workshop, “Transforming Our World by 2030: Reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, which focused on how and why the SDGs were developed, their purpose, and how medical students could work towards achieving them.
“It was insightful and humbling to see the work that was already being achieved by National Medical student Organisations (NMOs) around the world, amongst various social, cultural and political contexts. Overall, it challenged all of us to adopt the SDG framework into our existing AMSA Global Health Projects and beyond through our AMSA Sustainable Development Policy (2016).”
-Stormie de Groot, University of New England.”
The activities of the Sexual and Reproductive Health stream within the IFMSA represent a key area for involvement for Australian medical students, many of whom are engaged, interested and skilled in this field. Justine Thomson, Education Officer for AMSA Global Health, was involved in presenting a session within the SCORA streams on Comprehensive Sexuality Education.
“As a health and physical education teacher prior to medical school, I enjoyed the opportunity to take part in the General Assembly and share my knowledge in [sexual health]. My experiences within the general SCORA sessions were excellent and the guest speakers were highlights, particularly Dr Lale Say from the Department of Reproductive Health and Research, WHO, speaking on Female Genital Mutilation, and new guidelines in this space.”
-Justine Thomson, University of Wollongong.
Dr Elijah Painsil, from the Yale School of Medicine, also presented a keynote address around the challenges of children and adolescents living with HIV.
In addition to the significant academic opportunities, the IFMSA General Assembly allowed the Australian team members to grow and develop on a personal level through their interactions with other delegates. It was not hard for the team to truly believe the foundational philosophy of the IFMSA: that with collaboration and partnership, it is possible to have an impact on health challenges of the world. For delegation member Aysha Abu-sharifa, the highlight was the personal interactions with other delegates, and being challenged by various cultural perspectives on polarising issues. The Human Rights and Peace stream offered insights into human rights law versus humanitarian law, health inequalities in an intersectional context, and the effects of discrimination on the paediatric population.
“[Another] highlight this year was the Activities Fair where projects ranged from medical students mentoring orphans in Baghdad, to sign-language proficiency training for healthcare workers in Athens, to the advocacy of non-discriminatory health care for sex workers in the Netherlands.”
-Aysha Abu-sharifa, University of Notre Dame Freemantle.
The March General Assembly in Montenegro was an encouraging reminder of the need for global collaboration from Australian medical students. This year’s delegates agreed that not only is there a lot to learn from like-minded students, but there is also a great deal to contribute. The IFMSA conference is only one of the many platforms in which individuals can get involved.
Join the mailing lists of the IFMSA to learn about all the great opportunities (ifmsa.org)
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to found out more about getting involved with AMSA’s international opportunities, including IFMSA exchanges.
IFMSA August General Assembly in Tanzania: Pre GA 28 July-1 August; GA 1-7 August; Post GA 7-10 August
IFMSA Asia Pacific Regional Meeting (APRM) in Japan: Pre- September 15-17; APRM September 17-21
Aysha Abu-sharifa (University of Notre Dame Fremantle), Stormie de Groot (University of New England), Julie Graham (James Cook University), Justine Thomson (University of Wollongong)
Jasper Lin & Jessica Yang
Conflict of Interest
- Baum F. Classics in Social Medicine; Health for All Now! Reviving the spirit of Alma Ata in the twenty first century: An Introduction to the Alma Ata declaration. Social Medicine. 2007;2(1):34-41.