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The Geneva Health Forum 2014

Geneva Health Forum Opening Ceremony with Alain Berset, Federal Councilor of Switzerland, photo: Nawon Jung
Geneva Health Forum Opening Ceremony with Alain Berset, Federal Councilor of Switzerland, photo: Nawon Jung
By David Mackintosh, traducción española Paula Vasquez, traduction française Mathieu Jaume
18 April 2014

As far as international cities go, Geneva has something of a reputation; while Paris has the architectural wonder of the Eiffel Tower and Sydney an Opera House of particular merit, Geneva stands alone as a city of international cooperation and negotiation. It is no accident that the nations of the world gathered in Geneva to forge a new future after the second world war, and it is no accident that Geneva hosts dialogues today that strive to find a solution to conflicts in Syria and the Ukraine.

In the pocket of buildings that fill the landscape around the Palais des Nations are many of the international organization headquarters, including the ICRC, ITU, ILO, WTO and divisions of the United Nations itself like WIPO and WHO

It is in the context of this great community of international cooperation that the Geneva Health Forum (GHF) is held every two years in the Geneva International Conference Center.

Increasingly complex and arguably touching almost every other field of endeavor, the Forum seeks to bring together a community of health professionals wishing to share their experiences in developing and developed countries to better care for a global community.

Technology, Big Data, Sustainable Food Production, Social Housing, Community Bike Share Schemes, Provision of quality Neo Natal care at the front line in conflict zones, the free progress of Red Cross ambulances and their crews, the oddly troubling notion of proprietary ownership of our own DNA â€“ our unique genome sequence – are all discussed alongside the potential benefits and clear challenges of trade agreements between developed and developing nations and the role of big pharmaceutical companies in providing cheap access to front line drugs.

Among the prominent speakers are Mr. Alain Berset, Federal Councilor, Head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs, Swiss Confederation; Mr. Mauro Poggia, State Councilor, Republic and State of Geneva; Mr. Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); Mr. Andrew Filev, CEO, Wrike, United States; Mr. Bart Peterson, Honorary President, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Communications, Eli Lilly and Company, United States; Professor Irene Akua Agyepong, Health Systems Global Board Chair, School of Public Health, Ghana and Professor Recep AkdaÄŸ, Former Minister of Health of Turkey between 2002 and 2013, to name just a few.

But what gives the Forum its special place and meaning is the fact that many of the speakers are not professional presenters. To this end the presentations carry particular significance as they are often speeches from the heart; full of knowledge, commitment, not a little frustration but always with genuine compassion and at times love for our fellow human beings.

To listen to an Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) nurse recount how they work alongside new mothers and their new born babies, desperate to provide care and education, is to know the true meaning of a life well lived.

To enjoy a laconic, insightful, intellectually rigorous and at times exceptionally funny wrap-up of the threats and opportunities presented by Big Data is to be in the presence of genius.

To share a room with three women, one working in El Salvador, one in Vietnam and one in Kyrgyzstan and to see them vigorously nodding their heads in agreement and sharing insights into our peculiarly human condition is to know that Geneva, and the Geneva Health Forum, is playing its role with vibrancy, relevance and distinction.

And of course, for an event the size and complexity of this Forum, many organizational activities happen behind the scenes, which are essential for the smooth running of the event. In much the same way that speakers are gathered from right across the globe, volunteers put their time forward and lives on hold for a few days, to guide, cajole, translate, video, cloak, joke with and generally boss about delegates and speakers. ICVolunteers has supported the GHF since 2006. For this year’s edition, it provided a team of 51 volunteers from around the world.

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