MIN JUNG, SANAYA RAU
Yipeng Ge is a Chinese-Canadian, first-generation immigrant, and a humble and grateful guest of this land. He grew up in Waterloo, Ontario and completed his undergraduate studies at McMaster University in Health Sciences (Honours) with a specialization in Global Health. He received his MD from the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine. He is a resident physician in Public Health and Preventive Medicine (including family medicine) in Ottawa. He is Canada’s official youth delegate to the 73rd World Health Assembly and the 58th Pan American Health Organization Directing Council – the highest decision-making bodies for the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization, respectively.
- What inspired you to pursue a career in public health?
A lot of things certainly did! During my undergraduate studies in Hamilton, I learned so very much about Indigenous health and health and social inequities in the context of the Hamilton and Six Nations communities. Many tremendous Indigenous leaders, clinicians, academics, and community members contributed to my learning about the harsh realities of past and present day colonialism and racism that shape and impact the health and wellbeing of communities and peoples. I also learned about the strength and resilience of, including different ways of seeing and worldviews, certain peoples and communities that I met. Some of these experiences through our collective education mentorship model (https://mulpress.mcmaster.ca/ijsap/article/view/3878) were incredibly formative for me to want to pursue clinical training. Also, prior to which I started medical school I interned at the World Health Organization (https://yipeng.ca/2016/08/31/final-who-reflection-update/) to better understand the role that multilateral organizations such as the WHO play in shaping health and wellbeing for individuals and communities around the world, including Canada. During medical school, I found myself truly enjoying the breadth and depth of clinical medicine, but couldn’t necessarily shake the feeling of wanting to contribute to the systems for health (i.e. public health functions, the built environment, housing, education, food security, etc.) rather than looking at the healthcare system (i.e. clinics, hospitals) alone. I am very proud to have began my residency training in public health and preventive medicine (including family medicine) knowing that I am in a field that allows for me to gain the competencies to care for patients clinically at an individual level, but also care for patients at a community or population level (such as through health promotion, disease prevention, communicable disease, health protection, surveillance and epidemiology, environmental health, and public health policy work).
- You were recently selected to serve as Canada’s youth delegate at the 73rd World Health Assembly in Geneva. Tell us about your experience and what was accomplished at this meeting.
The World Health Assembly is one of the many governing body mechanisms for the WHO to be accountable in its work and functions to its 194 Member States, including Canada. It happens to be the largest of such governing body meetings and takes place annually. Normally this meeting takes place in Geneva, Switzerland, where the headquarters for the WHO is located. However, this year, the meeting was held virtually over two days in May (2020) for the first time in its history due to the COVID19 pandemic. (https://yipeng.ca/2020/06/14/covid-19-and-canadas-global-health-diplomacy-a-youth-perspective/). This is also the first time the meeting has a resumed session that is taking place in November 2020 over a weeks time. My experience as Canada’s youth delegate this year has been extraordinarily different from previous delegates I’ve spoken to (there have been 4 Canadian youth delegates before me). With a virtual format for the meeting, I had the unique opportunity to collaborate with the Canadian delegation in attending the meeting here in Ottawa with many discussions in advance to the meeting to share Canadian youth perspectives which I gathered over time from many colleagues, friends, and youth leaders across Canada. The meeting itself was focused on the international response to COVID19, including the role of the WHO in pandemic preparedness and response. A resolution for a shared global commitment to approach the COVID19 pandemic response was passed and agreed to (https://www.who.int/news/item/19-05-2020-historic-health-assembly-ends-with-global-commitment-to-covid-19-response), hopefully paving the way for strong efforts to control the pandemic, equitable access and distribution of essential technologies and products, and the establishment of an independent evaluation review of the global response to the pandemic including WHO’s performance.
- In your journal, “Yipeng’s Global Health Journal”, you talk about your experience working with the Pan American Health Organization Directing Council (PAHO DC). In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, what were the major public health issues and responses prioritized in the Americas region?
Another part of being Canada’s youth delegate to these two multilateral organizations, the WHO and PAHO (the Pan American Health Organization), is also attending and preparing for the annual Pan American Health Organization Directing Council (PAHO DC) meeting in late September 2020. This meeting normally takes place at the headquarters for PAHO which is in Washington, DC, US. However, during the COVID19 pandemic and following public health recommendations and guidelines, the meeting was similarly held virtually for the first time in its history (https://yipeng.ca/2020/10/06/reflections-from-canadas-youth-delegate-to-the-58th-pan-american-health-organization-directing-council-paho-dc-meeting/). A substantial agenda item was on the COVID19 response in the Americas Region, which highlighted the necessary core public health response components as well as acknowledging the disproportionate impacts on peoples that are in more vulnerable situations. In particular, Member States that are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis commented on how the upcoming hurricane season is seen as the ‘heart attacks of the climate crisis’, recognizing that the disproportionate impacts of climate change on human health affect peoples in the Americas region in different ways (i.e., forest fires causing asthma/lung disease, weather change and natural disasters causing displacement/migration/injury, mental health impacts, and among many other impacts). It is clear that recognizing that preparedness and response to the ongoing climate crisis is both a necessary and critical investment for global health outcomes and strengthening the concurrent response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- You started your residency in public health and preventative medicine during the pandemic. What are some of the unexpected challenges you have faced? What has been the most rewarding aspect so far?
I feel very privileged and grateful to enter my residency training field of choice in public health and preventive medicine, in particular, during the COVID19 pandemic. I have seen and heard over these past few months of the incredible work and leadership of public health physicians (i.e. Medical Officer of Health, Public Health Officer, etc.) in leading the public health response to this devastating communicable disease affecting communities at home and around the world. These kinds of events, such as a communicable disease outbreak, and in this case an outbreak of global proportions, provide public health professionals with the spotlight to respond and recover. Contrastingly, outside of a pandemic, public health functions largely with a ‘prevention’ lens and framework to address and mitigate the impacts of issues affecting health and wellbeing at the roots or the causes of the issue at hand. An unexpected challenge that has also been the most rewarding aspect has been to be able to contribute to the work of clinical medicine and public health during these past months. I am extremely humbled to have a foundational set of skills and knowledge to contribute in a clinical and public health setting, while concurrently learning and absorbing knowledge to be a competent and compassionate independently practicing public health, preventive medicine, and primary care doctor. It has been challenging to switch between clinical work and public health – but it has provided me with a very fulfilling well-rounded experience that provides a sense of purpose and contentment.
- A second wave of the pandemic is fast approaching in Canada. What is one issue that you believe youth can be doing more towards mitigating both the direct and indirect consequences of the pandemic?
We have certainly seen a very concerning surge in people being diagnosed with COVID19 over these past few weeks, including increasing numbers of people being admitted to hospital with COVID19. Youth, in its broadest definitions, have a tremendously important role in mitigating (and preventing) the direct and indirect impacts of the COVID19 pandemic. I truly believe that youth often identify issues with unparalleled passion, understanding, and virtue – when others turn a blind eye or are complacent to the status quo – such as, issues on equity, diversity, and inclusion, as well as the concurrent crises we are facing as communities (climate crisis, opioid crisis, homelessness crisis, mental health crisis) that disproportionately impact those already more vulnerable or marginalized. We must continue to speak up for the issues that matter most, and seek out the answers for why and what obstacles stand in the way of building a better world – while concurrently learning and gaining the skills and knowledge to most effectively tackle these issues. There has also been an outpouring of information during the COVID19 pandemic, and there is most certainly a role for youth to help with creative and innovative science communication messaging on various social media platforms that cuts through the noise and conveys to people of all different backgrounds and stages of life, the important core public health messages on how to protect oneself and loved ones from the impacts of COVID19. Finally, youth are uniquely impacted by the COVID19 pandemic through changes to delivery of education and training, including loss of employment and volunteer opportunities, during these very crucial and formative years of one’s life for personal and professional growth. Our mental wellness including taking care of oneself and one another is important, now more than ever, as our lives and societies have drastically changed.
- You are passionate about amplifying and engaging with youth voices in public health discourse and diplomacy. What is your advice to undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing a career in this field?
I’m very grateful to have had this experience with diving into the field of international development, global health diplomacy and governance, and of course, public health – and have been very thankful and humbled to share my learning and experience with others. Of note, my experiences and perspectives would also not be possible without the support, guidance, and advice of other youth, students, and young professionals. This work, similar to many other areas of work, is a team effort. Some of the most helpful advice that I’ve been given is to worry less about the ‘next thing’ and to be fully present and do a really good job with the work you are currently involved in – and as best as possible, involve yourself with work that truly give you excitement and passion, but also challenges and provides opportunity for growth and learning. This can be incredibly challenging early on, but finding like-minded people that become your teammates, close friends, and mentors is crucial – because finding a community and team, means you aren’t tackling some of these difficult issues alone (and you can’t tackle them alone). Finally, I’d strongly urge you to leverage your privilege as a student or young professional, and to not use the word ‘just’ before you introduce yourself as a student – allow yourself to not downplay or silence your own voice before you even begin. These identities of being a student or being a youth, mean that you are able to enter most spaces with great things to contribute, but also are welcomed to ask lots of important questions and will be supported in your learning and growth. Use these years to contribute as much as you can, but importantly, gather all the tools, skills, and networks you need now and in the future. The world needs you now more than ever.