Theora Tiffney, a PhD student at the Center for Biology and Society, in the Bioethics, Policy, and Law concentration, has just returned from a four-month stay in Geneva, Switzerland, where she interned in the World Health Organization (WHO) through the Duke Program for Global Policy and Governance.
During her time at WHO, Theora worked with the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, which specializes in facilitating efforts to fight diseases of poverty—malaria, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases. Theora worked with the capacity strengthening team, which seeks to support and improve disease-endemic countries’ ability to conduct research and implement effective evidence-based policy about diseases of poverty.
Theora’s second week in Geneva coincided with the World Health Assembly (WHA), the annual meeting of WHO’s governing body. Held at the United Nations’ Geneva headquarters, the Palais des Nations, the WHA not only concerns important decisions on WHO policy and governance, but also includes diverse lectures from both WHO and member states. As an intern with WHO, Theora had the opportunity to attend many of these lectures, including talks on community healthcare worker capacity strengthening, health implications of climate change, and universal health coverage strategies. This year’s WHA was also distinct because it was the first to elect rather than appoint a new Director General for WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Even during more routine weeks, working at WHO is exciting. One of the highlights were the lunchtime seminars, during which WHO staff and departments discussed ongoing or recently concluded projects. Seminars included the Hepatitis C global strategy and the unveiling of the WHO Emergency R&D Plan of Action—a response to the lack of drugs available to address Ebola Virus Disease during the 2013-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Others included cultural competence in teaching reproductive health in Texas, and a workshop on how to use WHO’s health inequality monitoring software, HEAT.
As a Global Health Fellow in Duke University’s Program for Global Policy and Governance, Theora also completed an intensive course week in Geneva through Duke University, in cooperation with the London School of Economics. From June 26th through June 30th, students attended morning lectures—led by experts from the many international organizations based in Geneva—and spent the afternoons visiting the headquarters of major actors in global health. Highlights included lectures by Surie Moon (the head of the Harvard/London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine investigation into the international response to the 2013-2015 Ebola epidemic), and a visit to the offices of Médecins sans Frontiers to discuss the basic difficulties of emergency response.
Of course, life in Geneva wasn’t all work. On weekends, Theora enjoyed exploring Switzerland and Swiss history, traveling to Chur (the oldest town in Switzerland, with evidence of almost 5000 years of human habitation), Zermatt (at the foot of the Matterhorn), Interlaken, and to Roman ruins and medieval castles. A short train trip was all it took to get to the magnificent countryside and vineyards of Vevey, spectacular hiking around St. Maurice, or Montreux’s castle. Even staying in Geneva offered plenty of entertainment, whether it was walking or painting by the lake, sampling the many flavors of ice cream, visiting the Frankenstein Villa, or paddleboating on the lake.
While she’s sad to have left Geneva, Theora is excited to start putting the skills she learned over the summer to use. Working closely with the professionals in her field has given her new skills for her PhD project, and new ways to approach her studies. She also looks forward to continuing to refine the research report she produced this summer for potential publication, in cooperation with her mentors in the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases.
Theora is grateful to the Center for Biology and Society, the School of Life Sciences, and the School of Life Sciences RTI for their generous financial support, which made the trip possible.
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