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An Intern’s Experience at the 74th WHA-USDHHS Stakeholder Listening Session

July 1, 2021

On May 13th, 2021, I had the remarkable opportunity to attend the Stakeholder Listening Session hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) Office of Global Affairs. The Listening Session was developed to help provide the U.S. delegation to the World Health Assembly with knowledge, ideas, and feedback from national organizations invested in global health matters, incorporating perspectives from public health and advocacy groups; state, local, and Tribal groups; private industry; minority health organizations; and academic and scientific organizations.

As an intern with the Global Alliance, I was able to join Evelyn Tomaszewski and Gita Jaffe to help represent our organization and contribute to recommendation positions regarding several facets of the World Health Assembly’s provisional agenda. Following our presence at the session, we released a comprehensive statement to coincide with the timing of the 74th World Health Assembly—which took place from May 24–June 1, 2021.

The Listening Session utilized a format that followed the provisional agenda for the 74th World Health Assembly. Divided into three pillars, grouped according to the following goals:

  • Pillar 1: “One billion more people benefiting from universal health coverage”
  • Pillar 2: “One billion more people better protected from health emergencies”
  • Pillar 3: “One billion more people enjoying better health and well-being”

The Global Alliance provided statements for each Pillar, incorporating our firm commitment to behavioral health, social justice, and human rights into our positions. Though the Global Alliance has attended prior WHA Listening Sessions and submitted relevant written statements in the past, this year’s listening session provided us with a unique opportunity to instigate dialogue around the United States’ prioritization of mental health during pandemic-centered negotiations.

Of over 60 statements, the inclusion of mental health services was mentioned roughly five times (with statements from the Global Alliance comprising three of these five). This further emphasized that our participation in this session was significant towards advancing the United States’ mental health promotion agenda among international colleagues. I found the dearth of input around mental health promotion to be a direct illustration of a statement from the WHO Director-General’s recent report—a statement regarding how “mental health is one of the most neglected areas of health.”

On a personal note, I found this session to be an enthralling introduction to the operations within global health policy. As an undergraduate, I was able to witness how organizations from dramatically different backgrounds synergistically contribute to national and international markers of health advancement. I recognized this opportunity as a rare insight into a system that affects the lives of every citizen across the globe—a system that is busy at work trying to combat the numerous ill-effects and setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope this event is a stepping stone to future interactions with additional settings that are invested in improving global markers of health and well-being—across political lines, institutional affiliations, and strategic foci.

This blog post was written by Global Alliance member, Surasya Guduru, and does not necessarily represent the policy position of the Global Alliance.

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