U of T student presents at the World Health Assembly in Geneva

University of Toronto alumna yifan zhou He first became interested in global health during his third-year global drug policy course at the Leslie Dan College of Pharmacy, and recently had the opportunity to participate in health policymaking on the world stage.

Zhou represented the International Pharmacy Students Federation (IPSF) at the 75th World Health Assembly, which was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in May. The assembly is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization.

The experience gave Zhou a unique insight into how global health policy is governed and provided opportunities to meet pharmacy students from around the world.

“I really love this profession, but I also realized that this profession is not the same all over the world,” says Zhou, who is currently completing a hospital residency at University Health Network in Toronto. “This experience opened my eyes to the different public health problems that countries face.

“I also learned a lot from spending time with the other IPSF delegates. We learned a lot from each other about the global health system and shared our country’s solutions to a number of health challenges.”

Yifan Zhou at the World Health Assembly (photo courtesy of Yifan Zhou)

During the third year of Zhou’s PharmD program, he took the Global Pharmaceutical Policy course taught by Professor Jillian Kohler.

“In today’s world, it is critical that pharmacy students understand how global issues affect pharmacy practice in Canada and beyond our borders,” says Kohler. “I designed my course to encourage students to think globally and critically and to focus particularly on issues related to marginalized populations who do not have safe access to essential medicines and to take action to make pharmaceutical systems more equitable.”

“It has been very gratifying to know that many of the students who have taken my course since then have pursued opportunities in global health by working with international organizations on drug policy or practicing pharmacy in countries outside of Canada.”

Zhou says Kohler’s course broadened his perspective of how pharmacy is practiced around the world and sparked his interest in global health issues.

“It opened my mind to a lot of things I didn’t know. This course allowed me to become more curious and I became more aware of the different healthcare infrastructures around the world,” she says. “This course is a great way to start exposing students to the complexity of global health issues.”

Zhou first became involved with IPSF, the international pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences student advocacy organization, in 2019 through its student exchange program and served on the translation and communication subcommittee.

IPSF is one of only two student organizations that have official relations with the WHO and can send delegates to the WHA. At this grand annual gathering, delegates from WHO’s 194 member states along with recognized non-governmental stakeholders come together to make decisions on WHO’s policies, review its work, set new goals, discuss public health issues, and revise budgets.

Zhou was one of four IPSF delegates who delivered policy statements in person.

Before the in-person assembly took place, Zhou and other IPSF delegates worked together to draft position statements on different health policy issues on the WHA agenda. Zhou says she was very proud of her work on the statement on WHO’s work in health emergencies, which emphasized the important roles healthcare trainees can play in providing patient education, vaccinations and disease detection. . Through her work on this statement, she realized how much Canadian pharmacy students had been able to contribute to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was not the case in many other countries.

Nearly 30 IPSF delegates from around the world, including another Canadian, traveled to Geneva to attend the WHA meetings. Due to COVID-19, the WHA limited the number of people allowed into the Palais des Nations, home to the United Nations Office at Geneva, and Zhou was one of four IPSF delegates allowed to enter. Zhou delivered two statements to the other WHO member state delegates: one on the availability, safety and quality of blood products and the other on the WHO 2030 Immunization Agenda.

“I found out on the first day of the meeting that I was going to give a statement and I was super nervous,” says Zhou. “But we were sitting in the outer ring with a microphone in front of us, so it felt like I was in a classroom, which was a relief. Overall it was a great experience.”

Zhou says that the days were long, beginning at 9 am and often ending around 8 pm or 9 pm. practice. She and four other delegates are now working on a paper about the experience that they hope to publish in academic pharmacy journals.

Zhou plans to continue volunteering with IPSF and will continue to be involved in health care policy, especially as it relates to advocating for the pharmacy profession to play a more active role in global health.

“Our profession has a lot of work to do to stand up for ourselves and what we can do here at home and internationally,” she says. “If we have more of a voice in international organizations and participate in high-level political debates, pharmacists will be more visible.

“With our capabilities, we could contribute a lot and the public would also know more about what we can do and would trust us more with their health.”

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