Three days, nearly 60 delegates and one goal: to inspire people in our University community to talk and think critically about public health. The inaugural session of Memorial University of Newfoundland World Health Organization Simulation (MUN WHO) kicked off on March 3, bringing together students from across many faculties and programs to gain insight into public health. This year’s theme was non-communicable, chronic diseases; a topic relevant given aging populations in many countries and especially in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

This was no small undertaking: “This is the first year Atlantic Canada has had a conference of this type. It was quite the feat to get this up and running,” said Aanchal Ralhan, MUN WHO’s executive director.

“It took help from more people then I can count over the past 10 months. From everything from assembling an executive to obtaining speakers, attaining sponsors, writing numerous grants, developing a logo and design, getting ratified through MUNSU, recruiting delegates, and developing the delegate packages, it quite literally took a village of support.”

Ralhan had originally gotten the idea last year after attending a similar conference in Quebec called “Montreal World Health Organization Simulation” which itself has been an annual conference since 2008.

She had hoped the skills she developed there could be brought to the province, since “the aim of this conference is to increase global health literacy in Newfoundland and Labrador youth, an important outcome for creating a healthier tomorrow for our province.”

The conference theme was focused on tackling non-communicable, chronic disease as it poses an increasing issue in our aging communities.

“This year’s theme was chronic disease […] a wide spectrum of disorders, which include but are not limited to cardiovascular diseases, cancers, respiratory disorders, diabetes and mental health,” said Ralhan. “About 38 million individuals succumb to non communicable diseases every year, and this number is on the rise especially in low and middle-income countries.

“Considering Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the fastest aging populations in Canada we thought this was an appropriate topic.”

To tackle a global problem as large as chronic disease, delegates assume the role of a country ambassador to the WHO and work with other participants to develop a resolution paper that addresses the theme of the conference.

The goal of the Ralhan and her team of volunteer committee members was an ambitious one.
“The conference was developed with the idea that it would give delegates an opportunity to step out as a citizen of a global village while discussing health issues in a social, economic and political context,” said Ralhan.

Many participants at the event mentioned the shared passion and interest in global health as one of the highlights of the event, while tiptoed into policy construction.

Ralhan and her team have many ideas to improve for next year’s conference, especially in highlighting the role-playing component of the conference.

“We hope to be able to host more participants next year and include additional roles like pharmaceutical representatives, non-government organizations and media representatives. This year we were dedicated to not only providing participants with a great conference experience, but also ensuring the longevity and growth of MUN WHO in the future.”