A graduate of the University of Tal presents at the World Health Assembly in Geneva

Graduated from the University of Toronto YifanZhou first became interested in global health during her third-year Global Pharmaceutical Policy course at Leslie Dan School of Pharmacy – and recently had the opportunity to participate in health policy-making on the World Scene.

Zhou represented the International Pharmacy Students Federation (IPSF) at the 75th World Health Assembly, held in Geneva, Switzerland, in May. The assembly is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization.

The experience gave Zhou a unique insight into how global health policy is governed and gave him the opportunity to meet pharmacy students from around the world.

“I really like this profession, but I also realized that this profession is not the same all over the world,” says Zhou, who is currently completing a hospital residency at the University Health Network in Toronto. “This experience has opened my eyes to the many public health issues that countries face.

“I also learned a lot from hanging out with the other IPSF delegates. We learned a lot from each other about the global health system and shared our nation’s solutions to a number of health issues.

Yifan Zhou at the World Health Assembly (photo courtesy of Yifan Zhou)

In the third year of Zhou’s PharmD program, she took the Global Pharmaceutical Policy course taught by Professor Jillian Kohler.

“In today’s world, it’s critical that pharmacy students understand the impact of global issues on pharmacy practice in Canada and beyond our borders,” says Kohler. “I design my course to encourage students to think globally and critically and to focus particularly on issues related to marginalized populations who do not have secure access to essential medicines and to take action to make pharmaceutical systems more fair.”

“It has been so gratifying to learn that many of the students who have taken my course have since pursued opportunities in global health by working with international organizations on pharmaceutical policy or pursuing pharmacy practice in countries at the same time. outside of Canada.

Zhou says Kohler’s course broadened her perspective of how pharmacy is practiced around the world and piqued her interest in global health issues.

“It opened my mind to a lot of things I didn’t know. This course allowed me to become more curious and I became aware of the different healthcare infrastructures around the world,” she says. “This course is a great way to start exposing students to the complexity of global health issues.”

Zhou first became involved with IPSF – the international advocacy organization for pharmacy and pharmaceutical science students – in 2019 through its student exchange program and served on the sub- translation and communication committee.

The IPSF is one of only two student organizations to have official relations with the WHO and to be able to send delegates to the WHA. At this major annual meeting, delegates from WHO’s 194 Member States as well as recognized nongovernmental stakeholders come together to make decisions on WHO policies, review its work, set new goals, discuss public health issues and review budgets.

Zhou was one of four IPSF delegates to deliver policy statements in person

Prior to the in-person assembly, Zhou and other IPSF delegates worked together to draft position statements on different health policy issues on the WHA agenda. Zhou says she was most proud of her work on the statement on WHO’s work in health emergencies, which highlighted the important roles healthcare trainees can play in patient education, vaccines and disease screening. Through her work on this statement, she realized how much Canadian pharmacy students had been able to contribute to health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was not the case in many other countries.

Nearly 30 IPSF delegates from around the world, including another Canadian, traveled to Geneva to attend the AMS meetings. Due to COVID-19, the WHA limited the number of people allowed into the Palais des Nations, headquarters of the United Nations Office at Geneva, and Zhou was one of four IPSF delegates allowed entry. Zhou presented two statements to other delegates from WHO Member States: one on the availability, safety and quality of blood products and the other on the WHO 2030 Immunization Agenda.

“I found out on the first day of the meeting that I was going to make a statement, and I was super nervous,” Zhou said. “But we were sitting in the outermost ring with a mic in front of us, so it felt like I was in a classroom, which was a relief. Overall it was a good experience.”

Zhou says the days were long, starting at 9 a.m. and often ending around 8 or 9 p.m. She says she enjoyed the opportunity to see how global health policy is decided and enjoyed meeting pharmacy students from around the world, learning about their pharmacy education and practice. She and four other delegates are currently working on an article about the experience that they hope to publish in academic journals of pharmacy.

Zhou plans to continue volunteering with the IPSF and will remain involved in health care policy, particularly as it relates to advocating for the pharmacy profession to play a more active role in global health.

“Our profession has a lot of work to do to advocate for us and what we can do here at home and abroad,” she says. “If we have more voice in international organizations and participate in high-level policy discussions, pharmacists will become more visible.

“With our abilities, we could contribute a lot and the public would also know more about what we can do and would trust us with their health more.”