A pack of 58 MUN students recently ran Atlantic Canada’s first World Health Organization simulation conference. Its theme was chronic disease and healthy aging, fittingly, since Newfoundland has Canada’s fastest aging population.

“A world health organization conference serves an important role in raising awareness and fostering lively debate on a pertinent global health issue,” explains chair of the affair, Aanchal Ralhan.

Ralhan says the simulation conference gave participants — sorry, “delegates” — the chance to discuss health issues in a social, economic, and political context. “Delegates assumed the role of a country ambassador to the WHO, and worked with other participants to develop a resolution paper that addressed the theme of the conference” on relevant topics such as food policy, palliative care, and healthy aging.

Holly Barrett was Communications Director. She says that most students attending the conference were assigned a country that they were quite unfamiliar with, “and thus the conference format encouraged students to conduct research and learn about their country of interest.”

The simulation lasted three days, and consisted of regional block times and two plenary debate sessions. “There were four regional blocks: The Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia South Pacific. The purpose of the regional block divisions was for the countries within each region to amalgamate their ideas and create working solutions to chronic health issues in their region as a whole.

Barrett says that during the plenary sessions, each country ambassador was given the opportunity to participate in healthy debate, discuss their country’s stance, and pitch their ideas to the rest of the delegates.

“At the end of the three day conference, a final resolution paper was compiled in which all of the country ambassadors agreed upon a number of clauses which aim to theoretically aid in solving the global issues of chronic health that were discussed. Ultimately, the delegates wanted to increase funding of treatment for mental illness, strengthen health systems and human resources, and implement more adequate policies to protect against food insecurity and malnutrition.”

Co-chair Rachael Weagle says that many of the conversations centered around the role of health policy in chronic disease management and prevention.

“The two main topics for debate were healthy food policy and palliative care. Students discussed the role of food security and malnutrition in relation to Newfoundland and globally. Discussed was the role of unhealthy foods and over-nutrition in many industrialized countries, in contrast to the under-nutrition observed in developing nations.

“This stratification of food availability and related health consequence was a topic for debate amongst students representing countries with differing priorities. Further, with lifespan and chronic disease prevalence increasing, quality of palliative care becomes an increasing concern around the world. Thus, students discussed and debated feasible global policies surrounding healthy aging. The conference concluded with 36 out of 38 represented countries agreeing on a 4 page resolution to determine the direction for food policy and chronic disease management around the world.”

They aim to forward their final resolution paper to their influential keynote speakers Dr. Cathy Mah and Dr. Aaron McKim, as well as various ambassadors to the WHO, in hopes to start a thought-provoking conversation and propose possible solutions to the global issues and struggles associated with chronic disease.

The idea for this conference was brought forward by Aanchal Ralhan in April of 2016, when she began thinking about how to implement such a conference in Newfoundland after attending something similar in Montreal.

She brought forward the idea to the faculty of Medicine, “and was very fortunate to gain support from the faculty in terms of space to host the conference.” Ralhan and 5 executive members: Holly Barrett, Rachel Weagle, Emma Neary, Jivy Chhatwal, and Evan Slaney, spent months securing sponsorships, getting ratified under the university, applying for grants, and obtaining keynote speakers, and creating a detailed conference package that would be of interest to delegates.

A bakesale raised over $700, and that money went towards student awards for “best position paper” and “best overall delegate.” Katrina Bartellas won best position paper, and best overall delegate went to Erynn Button.