An Undergraduate Student’s Reflection on Attending the Fifth Meeting of the WHO Global Initiative for Emergency and Essential Surgical Care

View of a Speaker from My Seat at the Meeting

View of a Speaker from My Seat at the Meeting

During the summer of 2013, I was granted the privilege to work in the office of Dr. Meena Cherian, the Director of the Emergency and Essential Surgical Care (EESC) Program at the World Health Organization. Through discussing the Program with Dr. Cherian and analyzing the current EESC data, I became enlightened on how surgical care plays a crucial role at the primary care level. Furthermore, I had the unique opportunity to assess data on surgical capacity of faith-based health facilities in India, where I learned more about the current strengths and weaknesses of those facilities while also gaining a better understanding of the already-established state-based health partnership schemes in other countries, such as Mali and Cameroon. After completing a report on the data, I was given the honor to be invited to present at the Fifth Meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Initiative for Emergency and Essential Surgical Care (GIEESC).

This year’s GIEESC Meeting was held from

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October 14th to October 15th in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The conference was open to professionals, public health experts, health officers, organization representatives, and all other partners interested in and passionate about collaborating in addressing surgical care deficiencies in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) as a global agenda. While the first GIEESC Meeting was convened in 2005 in Geneva, Switzerland, the 2011 WHO GIEESC meeting in San Diego, USA, was the first meeting to be open to students as GIEESC member observers. The 2013 meeting was arranged into nine sessions that included both presentation and working group discussion sessions.

The PAHO/WHO Representative for Trinidad and Tobago Speaks about Progress in GIEESC Areas

The PAHO/WHO Representative for Trinidad and Tobago Speaks about Progress in GIEESC Areas

As I elected to volunteer at the meeting as well, I was assigned to facilitate one of the working group sessions. I chose to facilitate discussions with the “Education and Training” Working Group, as one of my interests in public health is the medical education component. This group was composed of a range of charismatic members including physician assistants, obstetricians, trauma surgeons and even one medical school student. Since the group was able

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to quickly and efficiently elect leaders and vote on goals for the next biennium, they were able to start on their first task–amending the WHO comprehensive manual titled “Surgical Care at the District Hospital.” I, with no advanced knowledge of best practices for surgery, observed discussions among and demonstrations by my Working Group Members.

Another one of the sessions that I found particularly interesting included the presentations of country progress in implementing the WHO Integrated Management for Emergency and Essential Surgical Care (EESC) e-learning toolkit. Countries from Trinidad and Tobago to Mongolia were represented, and the initial data reports in comparison to the country’s progress reports were both surprising and motivating in the sense that progress in building surgical capacity was being made in the countries presented.

Some of the Education and Training Working Group Members Collaborating to Update the WHO District Hospital Manual on Surgical Care

Some of the Education and Training Working Group Members Collaborating to Update the WHO District Hospital Manual on Surgical Care

The doctors, nurses and administrators I met during the meeting were inspirational. By the end of my primary education, I knew I wanted to incorporate

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my love for culture, (Chinese) language, and medicine, but I did not know how to do so. During my senior year of high school, I learned about the life and work of Paul Farmer and how he used his understanding of the culture and language in Haiti to deliver more effective and integrative community-oriented medical care. In college, however, I began thinking that these goals may be too lofty. However, interning at the World Health Organization and then meeting these amazing doctors, who

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had once been in my place, and seeing the work they were able to accomplish allowed me to realize that my life goals are reasonable. I found motivation in a current Professor of Surgery at George Washington University who encouraged me with stories about projects in Nigeria and Ecuador with his organization Mission to Heal. I learned about balancing family and career goals in this lifestyle from the current PAHO/WHO Representative for Trinidad and Tobago who, through WHO’s mobility policy, was electively relocated to a range of countries, from Switzerland to Guyana. Moreover, while all these collaborators I met had accomplished perfectly laudable goals, the humbleness that I found in their characters showed the mark of honest, inspirational passion for their work.

The meeting, overall, was a very memorable and important experience for me. I learned new insights that changed both my perspective on my research findings and my future career. I am grateful for the opportunity, and I encourage as many students as possible to attend the summit in the next biennium.

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