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February 5, 2024

Student-Led Symposium Promotes Youth Work in Global Health Governance

On December 5, 2023, the student-led Global Health Governance as Public Service (GHGAPS) program, with support from the Global Health Institute, the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, and the Office of the Provost at Georgetown University, convened “Global Health Governance as Public Service: Looking to Leadership on the Global Stage,” a high-level symposium to discuss the importance of youth voices in global health governance and serving the common good.

The inaugural GHGAPS student cohort presenting at the symposium
The inaugural GHGAPS student cohort presenting at the symposium

Lifting Up Youth Voices in Global Health

GHGAPS is a student-led initiative that aims to position youth at the forefront for health relief and social justice in the international health setting and advocate for the health care rights of all people around the world. Created in response to the growing call for meaningful youth engagement in global health diplomacy, the GHGAPS program started as a pilot in 2021 for three Georgetown University students attending events on the sidelines of the seventy-fifth World Health Assembly (WHA), held in Geneva in May 2022. The pilot program led to the development of an immersive training course during the 2022-2023 academic year to prepare an inaugural cohort of five students to attend the seventy-sixth WHA as representatives of GHGAPS.

As of December 2023, GHGAPS now serves as a three-credit university-wide, cross-disciplinary course in partnership with the Red House. The course, UNXD 4465: Global Health Governance as Public Service, provides students with the opportunity to learn from career diplomats, health experts, and other public servants through immersive experiences and diverse scholarship.

A Signature Educational Experience for Undergraduates

At the December symposium, the inaugural GHGAPS student cohort discussed their experiences with the program and shared how the training course in particular has influenced their studies at Georgetown. Iman Ibrahim (H’24), a global health major with a minor in Arabic, reflected on the course within her broader educational experience.

“The Global Health Governance as Public Service training course has provided an interdisciplinary perspective to my global health studies by integrating health principles and objectives with diplomatic and policy approaches.”

In addition, the cohort discussed their joint policy report entitled “Reactive to Preventative: Operationalizing the Precautionary Principle for Governance Structures.” During the training course, the students were tasked with drafting individual reports about a wide array of topics including planetary health, migration governance, and behavioral economics, which were later integrated into a joint report. In summer 2023, the inaugural cohort had the opportunity to share their report with global health leaders in Washington, DC, and offered a critical youth perspective on issues facing humanity today.

Looking to Leadership

Reflecting GHGAPS’ mission to facilitate student engagement with career diplomats, health experts, and other public servants through immersive experiences, the cohort invited a diverse and dynamic group of panelists to join the symposium.

Speakers included Monica Zaccarelli Davoli, chief of staff at the Pan American Health Organization; Rubén Sanchez Martinez, minister for agriculture, fishing, and food at the Embassy of Spain; and Garry Aslanyan, manager of partnerships and governance at the World Health Organization Special Programme on Research and Training on Tropical Diseases. These speakers were joined by panelists from the Georgetown community, including Sister Celeste Mokryzcki, SSJ, chaplain for the School of Nursing and the School of Health; Ed Walsh, adjunct professor in the environmental metrology and policy program at the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences; and Phyllis Magrab, professor in the Pediatrics Department of the School of Medicine.

Dr. Gaudenz Silberschmidt, director for health and multilateral partnerships at the World Health Organization, provided opening remarks via Zoom. Silberschmidt emphasized the importance of promoting a dynamic, multidisciplinary approach to today’s global health challenges.

“Addressing humanitarian crises and public health emergencies responsibility requires a response that goes beyond traditional methods, blending diplomacy, science, and public service.”

GHGAPS co-founder Abigail Corrao (H'24) moderating a hybrid panel discussion
GHGAPS co-founder Abigail Corrao (H'24) moderating a hybrid panel discussion

A Call to Action

Throughout the December symposium, the featured speakers tailored their reflections to the students in the room. For example, Tressa Rae Finerty, senior U.S. State Department fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, shared insights from her career in public service and encouraged students to actively embrace leadership roles—starting at the community level. Similarly, in his concluding remarks Oliver Johnson, managing director for the Global Health Institute, emphasized to students the importance of getting involved in programs like GHGAPS that offer youth leadership opportunities.

“When I think about what I most learned from university, it wasn’t the lectures, it wasn’t hearing from people at meetings: it was actually organizing the activism I did.”

At a time of rising health crises and inequity, the next generation of international leaders in the room seemed ready for this call to action. The symposium demonstrated the growing desire of Georgetown’s undergraduate students to promote health equity and develop leadership skills as they consider careers as global health diplomats and practitioners in the public health field.

Looking Ahead to the Next Cohort

The joint hope of GHGAPS is to grow the initiative’s efforts beyond the original founders and continue building out opportunities for youth to engage and learn about public service. Creating another cohort of students from health-related majors across the university is a key next step. Sarah Pino (H’24), a member of the inaugural student cohort, reflected on GHGAPS’ growing goals.

“Recognizing that the mission of GHGAPS is rooted in contributing to the global public good, we are committed to translating our experiences into an equitable and accessible initiative for our campus community.”

As it looks ahead, GHGAPS is seeking partners to support the training course and expand the educational resources so they can be available to more students. In addition, as a student-led initiative, GHGAPS is keen to learn from and collaborate with major faculty-led initiatives in this field, such as the Center for Global Health Science and Security's Health Diplomacy Training Institute, which is led by leading experts in the study and practice of global health diplomacy.

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