GHF2010 – PS08 – Mobilizing Students for Change: The Medsin Campaign

Session Outline

Parallel session PS08, Wednesday, April 21 2010, 14:00-15:30, Room 14
Workshop Chair(s): Mustafa Abbas, Medsin-UK Vice-President for Branches, and Healthy Planet National Coordinator, United Kingdom
Summary: This workshop will provide a framework for student involvement and action on climate change and health, based on the functioning model of Medsin's Healthy Planet. The first part of this session will provide an overview of climate change and global health, and of climate change and the health co-benefits of policy. The second part will focus on the general concepts of student involvement and action in global health, using Medsin-UK as a model, reviewing basic training in student involvement, such as how to engage policy makers and politicians. More advanced concepts, such as how to strategy plan a project or campaign will then be explored. The third part of this session offers 'take home' skills. The Healthy Planet model will be presented, using case studies of its success in the UK on national and local levels. This provides a framework and template for session participants, including practical steps for what to do, who to contact, where resources can be found. It includes case studies of students involved in Healthy Planet so as to identify challenges and obstacles commonly encountered, and explain how to overcome them.

Session Document

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Session Report

Photo by John Brownlee, ICVolunteers.org

Submitted by: Caroline Pepek (ICVolunteers)

It is increasingly important to mobilise forces working towards strategic health goals. Medsin, a global network working to educate as well as advocate about health inequalities, finds its force in student operated and supported movements. Promoting the concept of academic advocacy, Medsin harnesses the energy and vitality of universities around the world to create global movements focusing on specific and engaging health topics.

Mustafa Abbas, from Medsin-United Kingdom, embodied the proactive nature of Medsin with his incredibly engaging workshop. As participants trickled into the room, Mr. Abbas would stop his presentation and ask their names, interests and careers. In a room primarily composed of medical students from the surrounding area, Mr. Abbas seemed quite at home proselytizing Medsin’s message of practical and positive health-related campaigns.

From promoting HIV/AIDS testing to challenging opinion on climate change, Medsin works to improve advocacy on a wide range of issues, mobilising students to lobby their governments for greater health equality. A global yet grassroots organisation, Medsin notes among its victories a successful lobbying campaign in the UK for the continuance of student healthcare under the NHS in 2007.

As Mr. Abbas explained, the session was to provide the attending students with the tools necessary to form their own advocacy groups on their own university campuses. He explained that students should never work alone as there are many support systems already in place to guide fledgling movements.

In the spirit of Medsin, the speaker divided the group and had each smaller section draw pictures of their perceptions of global health activism. For the most part, the groups recounted stories of letter writing or poster campaigns and, in some cases, drew the specific transfer of knowledge from individuals to the general public. This exercise helped to debunk the ideas that developing public health is only something that policymakers are able to do. He emphasised the importance of general participation in this process, as it would bring the policy back to the constituents.

Medsin, Mr. Abbas noted, is an organisation that is willing to help promote health issues along with smaller organisations. The presentation combined group participation, discussion and education (all essential parts of the Medsin mantra) in a fast-paced crash course on creating advocacy groups. Central to mobilisation programmes is a strong desire to improve current conditions. Unless individuals starting the programme are passionate about their topic, chose a topic that they believe they can influence and find a population they can benefit, the resulting advocacy is destined to fail.

Apart from this concept of inward inspiration, Mr. Abbas noted the necessity to “think outwardly” in order to motivate the population. “Thinking outwardly” for Medsin includes developing a strategy based on a reaction to a public health threat. Often, the creation of this strategy (or cultivating the means to the end) includes public advocacy, direct action and education. Education, seemingly, is the prime motivator for Medsin as well as its contributors: promoting “academic advocacy,” Mr. Abbas explained to the audience “you are all medical students and you are activists” and asked them to use their knowledge to promote health equality.

On a final note, Mr. Abbas explained the importance of passion in the field of health advocacy. “Never doubt yourself,” he said, “because when you start doubting yourself, you’ve failed.”

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