Ponnu Padiyara’s summer internship at the World Health Organization

Friday, September 1, 2017

As cliché as it sounds I cannot believe how quickly my time in Geneva with the World Health Organization flew by. Thanks to the Coca Cola World Fund at Yale Award I received from the MacMillian Center, I was able to accept an offer to work for the Interagency Coordination Group (IACG) on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), which is hosted at the WHO. The IACG was established due to the UN Political Declaration last year which acknowledged antimicrobial resistance as a global crisis that needed to be addressed. Antimicrobial resistance occurs when microorganisms become resistant to drugs that were previously used to treat them. Antibiotics have served as a cornerstone of modern medicine for decades, being utilized to treat a range of infections from strep throat to sepsis and to support range of modern medical procedures from organ transplants to chemotherapy. Because of the widespread misuse and overuse of antibiotics around the world in animal and human health, this cornerstone of modern medicine is in danger of crumbling. A world without effective antibiotics is a terrifying one to imagine, and it is a future that the IACG is trying to prevent. The IACG is comprised of experts and several multilaterals such as World Bank, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization etc. As an intern for the IACG Secretariat, I got an immersive experience in learning the intricacies of crafting policies and guidelines on such a large global health issue as well as a front row seat in how expert working groups function in a multilateral setting.

I had several summer projects, but the main one involved creating and analyzing a web consultation for the IACG work plan so that WHO Member States and relevant stakeholders could provide their input. Because the IACG was established off of a high level political meeting at the previous UN General Assembly, many member states are eager to know about its progress and provide their insight into the issue. I also helped compile several reports for two IACG teleconferences – one in June and a future one in September. My last project will involve writing a commentary with my team on global governance strategies to manage antimicrobials. I’ll specifically be contrasting legally binding governance strategies such as treaties with non-binding strategies such as political declarations and making a recommendation on which might be more effective in managing antibiotics.

In my spare time I traveled around certain cities in Europe that I wasn’t able to travel to the last time I lived in Europe during my Fulbright year.  I love art and museums so I really enjoyed the opportunity to visit art galleries in Prague, Amsterdam and Munich while also enjoying the great regional food. Because Geneva is so close to French border, I also made day trips with other interns to nearby French towns like Annecy and Chamonix for hiking and sightseeing.

Geneva itself is incredibly idyllic during the summer and almost all social events happen around Lake Geneva. From a professional perspective living in a town with so many other multilateral organizations gave me an appreciation for how these organizations work together to advance global health and development. Even though I’m back in New Haven to complete the second year of my MPH, I’m still involved in some work within my department at WHO and I’m hoping to attend a side event on AMR hosted during the UN General Assembly in New York later this month!

Ponnu Padiyara is a MPH Candidate 2018 (Chronic Disease Epidemiology) at the Yale School of Public Health.