My Time with the Global Guardian of Public Health

July 19, 2017
Group Photo
Global Health Policy with the Duke University Program on Global Policy and Governance - group photo at the course reception.

By Kevin Ramseur II, 2nd-year MSc-GH student

I have been in Geneva for more than two months now for two main reasons:

  1. Interning with the World Health Organization in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
  2. Taking a course on Global Health Policy with the Duke University Program on Global Policy and Governance.

My university (Duke) played a tremendous role in affording me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am humbled and appreciative to be taking advantage of it.

The Internship

So first off, let us get this straight: For the past two months, I have been working diligently for 45 hours per week while attempting to keep up with my master’s thesis work for no compensation. Now that we have that nugget out of the way, we can talk about business.

The WHO is the agency under the umbrella of the United Nations that deals with public health. The responses to outbreaks of Ebola, SARS, HIV, Cholera, etc., for better or worse, are widely coordinated within the walls of the building in which I am currently sitting. In fact, there is special room "SHOC" (Strategic Health Operations Centre) where technical experts from around the world meet at our headquarters to develop plans to address emergencies.

Currently, the focal point is the widespread famine across South Sudan. It does not stop there, however, as the WHO also deals with family, women and children's health, non-communicable diseases (cancer, diabetes, heart disease) and mental health, health systems and innovation, and all sorts of health emergencies.

All of this serves the goal of building a world in which 100% of individuals have quality healthcare that is accessible, affordable, and available: Universal Healthcare.


A visual representation of Universal Healthcare looking at % of interventions covered,
% of populations covered, and % of cost covered.
Source: The Lancet Commission, Vol 382, 7 Dec, 2013.

My internship is focused on developing a Global Dementia Observatory, or a worldwide network of policies, services, and information that will be used to combat rising rates of dementia. Dementia is a broad category of neurodegenerative diseases, the most common being Alzheimer’s Disease (not pronounced all-timers). Currently, the US spends more than $200 billion annually to treat people with dementia, and that number is expected to surpass $1 trillion by 2050 due to increasing life expectancy, aging populations and unhealthy lifestyles.


Recently our team was featured alongside Switzerland's Ambassador for Global Health
in a World Psychiatric Association bulletin for our success in passing the Global Action Plan
​for the Public Health response to dementia through the World Health Assembly.
(That's me on the far right.)

My primary role has been designing a survey that was recently sent out to 22 National Departments of Health, including countries of all income statuses and all major regions, including Australia, Costa Rica, Togo, Tunisia and many more. The goal of the survey is to gain a better understanding of what countries are doing about dementia now, what they plan to do about it in the future, and what they need to do to get there, so that the WHO can provide them with the financial, technical and operational resources to get it done.

The Course Week

The Duke program was so much more than just a course. It brought together students from the US, United Kingdom, Japan and the Netherlands to learn about the ins and outs of public policy on a global scale.

My course focused on health and was split into three portions: guest lectures, site visits and a policy competition. From speakers who were in the field during the Ebola epidemic, to those who coordinated the mental health response to the earthquake in Nepal, to those whose jobs are literally to form committees critiquing those very responses, we heard it all. (Except, of course, from national governments.)

By combining this with the visits to the offices of the Global Alliance Vaccine Initiative (GAVI), which pools medical resources during emergencies and Médicin San Frontières (Doctors without Borders) which delivers the medicine, our experience came full circle. What was especially interesting was the rivalry and the general divide between the policy and management experts and the medical doctors, something that has caused a media circus in the past.


A real slide from our presentation ... unfortunately the comedic element was lost on the audience.

The policy competition gave us the opportunity to showcase what we learned in the context of vaccinating refugees in Uganda. Although my team did not win (the vote was rigged!), we gained valuable experience along the way and made connections that will carry on into the future.

The week was capped off by a reception at Brasserie des Halles de l’ile, or “The Island Brewery Hall,” a beautiful bar right on the water of Lac Léman. In true Duke fashion, it was a spectacular event with wine, champagne, and plenty of fancy hors d’oeuvres. (NOTE: I didn’t even have to spell check that word!)

This post was originally published on Kevin Ramseur II’s personal blog, Global is Local, and was republished with permission.