Global health transcends boundaries. But it also transcends domains and disciplines of practice. The field of global health is drawing an increasingly diverse group of Canadian young people who have a wide range of interdisciplinary experience, backgrounds, and interests. Youth are highly attuned to the critical need for forming authentic and inclusive partnerships around the world to promote resilient and responsive health systems.
Canada is positioned to play a strategic role as a leader on the international development stage, and this means that integrating youth leaders into global discourses, particularly relating to health, is vital. Canadian youth not only have the knowledge, tools, and ambition to improve health inequities from the local to global level, but we believe that young people can be key contributors to health diplomacy.
The Determinants of Diplomacy: Above and Beyond Political Boundaries
The multi-faceted nature of global health today is mirrored in the complexity of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which touch upon the social, security, cultural, political, economic, and environmental determinants of health. These factors are interdependent, comprehensive, and provide a basis for youth to address some of the most pressing issues facing the world at this time.
Because these factors ultimately form the foundation for engaging in diplomatic relations, youth must be well versed in each of them. It is also essential to build relationships with governments, civil society organizations, institutions, community members, academics, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and others – regardless of age, religion, nationality, or gender.
Priorities for Canadian Youth In Global Health
The mobilization of knowledge into actionable and operational practice is a top priority among Canadian youth in global health. Canadian students and young professionals are aware of the need to improve coordination and collaboration among health systems actors, and want to facilitate this by putting our learnings into practice. Youth can offer innovative insight to improve the channeling of aid when striving for equitable and efficient health systems, particularly when facing the diverse scope of global health actors today.
Climate change is often at the periphery of global health discussions, yet it is undoubtedly one of the most pressing issues facing not only youth, but the global community at large. Climate change has severe impacts on health systems by exacerbating inequities. The urgency of this issue is reflected in the significant attention it is receiving in the SDG agenda and at Conference of Parties (COP) meetings. The universal nature of climate change offers the opportunity for collaborative partnerships between youth of all nations and global community stakeholders. Canada’s recent ratification of the Paris Declaration provides a point of leverage for the involvement of Canadian youth in operationalizing this agenda.
Another key opportunity for global health diplomacy among youth is to contribute to the increasing discourse on improving sexual and reproductive health services in Canada and worldwide. As young Canadian professionals, we know how contentious access to health systems and services can be in different contexts. With this in mind, the Canadian emphasis on Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (MNCH) must be cognizant and inclusive of all sexual and reproductive health needs. Here, leveraging approaches that are led by youth, for youth, can aid in creating a platform to ensure the equitable access, availability, and quality of these services for all Canadians.
The time for Canadian students and young professionals to engage in topical discussions such as these with leading global health practitioners from around the world, is now.
From November 14-18, Vancouver will host the Fourth Global Symposium on Health Systems Research. Having this conference in Canada provides an exciting opportunity for youth to access, engage in, and raise priority issues related to global health. Prior to the Global Symposium, on November 12-13, Canadian Global Health Students and Young Professionals is partnering with Emerging Voices for Global Health to host a weekend pre-conference.
This gathering is an opportunity for youth from around the globe to come together, share insights, and build relationships. Over the course of the weekend, students and young professionals will be challenged to think critically about current global health priorities and encouraged to develop innovative approaches to improve health systems.
These priorities, among others, will be raised at a Symposium session with Karina Gould, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development. This is a pivotal moment for youth to have their voices heard. We are the next generation and we need to take ownership over global issues facing our health systems right now, to instill the roots of equity in generations to follow.
Nicola Toffelmire is a Master of Public Health candidate at Simon Fraser University and holds an Honours Bachelor of Science from the University of Waterloo. Nicola is Chair of the 2016 Global Health Students and Young Professionals Summit, a pre-conference to the Fourth Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in partnership with Emerging Voices for Global Health. She was recently selected to be Canada’s youth delegate at the 2017 World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.
Annalise Mathers is a Master of Public Health student in the Global Health concentration at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Her Honours thesis project examined the future directions of global health within the scope of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She currently works as Research and Policy Assistant with the Centre on Governance at the University of Ottawa, the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation, and at Simon Fraser University.