Saturday, 17 May 2014

Welcome to WHO and the global health tardis (yes, it really is bigger on the inside...)

So.  I'm in Geneva gearing up to attend the 67th World Health Assembly (WHA67) which kicks off here on Monday.  The what, I hear you say?  You're where?  Why do I care?

All good questions.  Basically I'm here as part of an event that aims to increase global health awareness and understanding. It has been organised by the World Health Communication Associates (WHCA) and I'll tell you a bit more about them in a mo.  I came last year and having caught the health bug (yes, I really did just say that....) I'm back again along with a fresh cohort of newly graduated international journalism students (some of whom are pictured in the top lefthand corner there at our first briefing this evening...).

How healthy you are, the decisions you take about your health or about the things you do that affect your health will be determined for the greater part by the communication and information you have about that topic.  Which makes it pretty important that there is good, trustworthy and accurate information available to you.  Right?

However we're all familiar with the challenges of getting good, trustworthy, accurate health information. The (mis)information about the links between the MMR injection and autism is one example of how what's communicated in the media affects the decision making of parents.  Or the current row about statins which has left people feeling pretty confused about what they should do and when/if they should take them.

Dizzying complexity

The WHCA believes that health literacy of a community - e.g. how much you know about health issues - directly relates to the health and wellbeing of the people in that community. The media in particular have a huge role to play in this of course. But here's the thing: Actually health is complicated.  For a start there are so many health issues and the complexity of the science underlying each of them is dizzying for any would-be journalist needing to get their 400 word copy out by deadline.  Copy that needs by it's very nature to be crystal clear and readily understood by the woman/man/child on the street.

Add into that the economics of health - staying alive and well is an expensive business at the individual and the national level - and the fact that disease doesn't pay any attention to the boundaries we draw between countries. Suddenly you start to see that health is an international, political and economic issue as well as a personal one.

There are 193 health ministers from around the world about to congregate here in Geneva.  They are going to get together in a room and decide what the worlds major health priorities are today and who is going to do what about them over the next 20 years. 

This is what the World Health Assembly does.  It is the decision making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO), an arm of the United Nations.  It gathers government officials, policy-makers, non-government officials and medical professionals together in one time and place and provides leadership and direction for and with them in terms of global health. 

This means that what is discussed here over the next few days will, in no uncertain terms, have an impact on your life.  Which is pretty important I reckon - after all you've (probably) only got the one and it is a wild and precious thing.

My intention over the next few days is to blog and tweet about what's happening here and to take a deeper dive into some of the issues being discussed. I hope to throw some light on the workings of the #WHA67 and kick off some discussions on the rights and wrongs of health journalism as it stands today.  But for now.....I'm going to take a spoonful of some of the best medicine there is, sleep.  A demain.

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