Day 1 - "Young people are biologically revolutionary, if they’re not then it is a contradiction”

Greta Bartels, RMIT University

Day One, started with a quick walk over the border from France to Switzerland; as Uber is not allowed to operate in France. Our Uber picked us up next to a green paddock and dropped us off, with stark contrast, at the beautiful Intercontinental Hotel.

The first item on the agenda was a meeting with Peter Varnum and Craig Hodges, who both work with the World Economic Forum in the area of mental health. This meeting kicked off a theme we have begun to notice: we’re constantly learning about health issues that we had no previous knowledge of and/or no idea about the depth and severity of the issue. For myself, doing an international studies degree, and therefore having no medical background, hearing about other pressing health issues – such as antimicrobial resistance - over the past two days has been incredibly concerning. That topic in particular, was mentioned at the pre-WHA72 briefing for delegates and again during the opening sessions of the Official Plenary. Learning about how antibiotics are being abused has been eye-opening, whether preventatively in cattle feed or over-prescribed to patients with no real need, and has emphasised how seemingly independent acts like these all contribute to significantly increasing the risk of super bugs.

The High-Level Plenary itself was amazing; with each seat having earpieces with multiple different translations and seeing all of the country delegations below, it created such an energy that had us all excited. And Youth representative Natasha Mwanza only further increased the energy in the room.

As a young Zambian woman of only 18 years of age, Natasha began her speech explaining that she wouldn’t be using a large amount formal language, but that we would “get the point, right?”. This was met with a huge amount of applause and welcome from everyone in the room, an attitude that continued throughout her speech. A point she discussed that really stood out to me, was the need to create a youth-friendly arena rather than an arena with a youth-friendly area. With over 50% of the world population under the age of 30 years, I couldn’t agree more; we are an essential part of creating the solution to our global problems. We’ve been lucky to be able to engage with quite a few other youth organisations while we’ve been here, which has been incredibly insightful and engaging. The question of youth engagement was also brought up at today’s meeting on community and civil society engagement for the Global Action Plan on SDG 3: Universal Health Coverage, demonstrating how important youth involvement and engagement is in the health arena.

Interestingly, as we discussed in our Uber ride back to our hotel, the civil society and community events tend to be more heavily attended by females, whereas the more governance-focused events are more heavily attended by males. For our last session of the day this was particularly evident. Eating more delicious desserts and drinking fresh juices, we heard from community health nurses from Liberia and Uganda, among others, sharing their experiences in educating their communities about good health. The Ugandan Minister for Health, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, highlighted to the audience that there is a real need for community health nurses to be paid, yet another issue to add to the complex problems. What was interesting was the majority of the audience was women, and those that were very annoyingly talking throughout the presentation were mostly men. It will be interesting to see if these trends continue throughout the week.

Finally, I’m super excited to start hearing more about humanitarian crises and climate change in tomorrow’s sessions, as these relate directly to my policy paper topic and will provide me with ideas and information to support my recommendations for the Australian context.