Tuesday, March 25, 2008

JAIH-S International Health Training Camp 2008.

I was given an opportunity to participate in a four-day global health training program that was carried out by the Students' Division of the Japan Association for International Health (JAIH-S) from March 13th to the 16th. The main aim of this annual program is for the participants to be able to (1) create an image of what working in the global health field is like, and (2) know what you can do and how to start it.

We had lectures done by people currently working at the front lines in this field, including staff from the International Health Center Japan, a tropical medicine researcher, an epidemiologist, officers from the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW), and health specialists from NGOs, JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), and UNICEF. The lectures were followed by many group activities including discussions, debates, and a PCM (project cycle management) workshop which we had to work on through a night to complete.

My impression? Well... frankly speaking, I felt a little weird throughout the program. Of course, all the participants were highly-motivated, deep-thinking, yet thoughtful people who had gathered from around the country, and without question, the chats with them were really stimulating and one of those memorable times. However, most, if not all of them, were drawn by the terms 'global health' or 'international health', while on the other hand, my interest doesn't necessarily have to go beyond the border, as my 'theme' is community-based health care or primary health care (PHC). Yes, often times, these words have been talked about more in the developing communities rather than the industrialized ones so no doubt it does have a 'global health' taste to it, however, when you take a close look at the developed communities, you actually do see many forms of community health, and plus, there are many things these communities around the globe can learn from each other.

And, another reason for my feeling not right is probably due to the fact that many of the speakers have already literally abandoned the clinical part of being a physician. In other words, many of the doctors in this field do not see patients anymore at a hospital or clinic. Yes, it is true that so-called logistic-type jobs are more needed than specialized people like doctors or nurses. For example, when you take infectious diseases, the main underlying issues in the developing communities are more basic, such as sanitation or health education, and tackling these issues is the most radical solution. Treating patients and prescribing drugs is also a job that can not be cut, but it does little in terms of remedying the bigger picture. So what's needed in the field of international cooperation? Leadership, management, communication skills, and creative thinking. It's what one of the lecturers said, and I agree.

However, at this point, I have no thought of abandoning the clinician's work. Well, that's what I am studying medicine for right now! To obtain specialized skills. Yes, I am interested in public health, community health, and doing positive things for the bigger public, but I want to do that through interacting with the patients. So the image of my future I have right now could be called 'clinical epidemiology-based community health'. In other words, through interacting with the people, know the community, know its strengths, weaknesses, and hidden potentials, and do something creative to bring out their strengths to make the community happier as a whole, with the people in the community. This training program helped me reaffirm my interest.

By the way, I had a chance to talk with Dr. Honda, the founder and current chair of SHARE, the biggest non-profit organization in Japan specializing in international health cooperation, and I was deeply moved by his talks, as he and I had so many common interests... his 'theme' also sounded like community-based health care and primary health care (PHC). :-)

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