Inside the World Health Organisation
9 June 2010
In February a group of eight postgraduate students from the Department of Medicine made a trip to the World Health Organisation (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the Health Systems Development course taught at the WHO Collaborative Centre based at Charing Cross. One of the students, Ruben Gennero, reports on his experience:
“One of the best things about being a postgraduate student at Imperial is working in an international research environment and this year we got the amazing opportunity to go to the WHO headquarters. During our time in Geneva we met with several WHO staff members, including Mohamed Abdi Jama, the Assistant Director, who is responsible for general management, and Ala Alwan, the Assistant Director, who looks after non-communicable diseases and mental health. Both are important members of the organisation and specialise in international health.
Dr Jama explained the pros and cons of being the general manager of one of the most important agencies of the United Nations, and his team described the main developments in the administrative and accountability functions in the WHO. Dr Alwan, who has vast experience in public health and medicine, described the current epidemiological situation in the world, overthrowing myths such as the belief that non-communicable diseases only have an impact in the developed world. He believes that the next generation of public health practitioners, like us, faces a situation where non-contagious diseases, such as those caused by smoking, obesity and modern society’s sedentary lifestyle, will dominate the world, with devastating effects in developing countries.
We also met with representatives from the Health Action in Crisis cluster, who explained the importance of preparing communities to respond to national emergencies and natural disasters. In general, it takes two or three days for international teams to respond to an emergency of this kind, so you need a well-trained and prepared community before disasters occur. Global health is a key driver to every public health practitioner and to get the opportunity to see inside the most important organisation in the global health context was incredibly motivational.”