News & Media Opinion Pieces IFMSA conference (60th) – Copenhagen 1st-6th August 2011

IFMSA conference (60th) – Copenhagen 1st-6th August 2011

IFMSA conference (60th) – Copenhagen 1st-6th August 2011

Report on the 60th International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations General Assembly


The organisers of the 60th International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) General Assembly, held in Copenhagen between 1st and 6th August, promised that it would be “the greenest ever”. As a result, it seemed only fitting that my first sight of Copenhagen was of a line of wind turbines arising from the ocean.

Copenhagen is the ideal destination for environmentally-conscious conference organisers. The city has good environmental credentials: Denmark sources around 20% of its energy needs from wind, and provides an excellent mix of public and active transport opportunities. The organisers worked hard to reduce the usual environmental burden associated with a large conference – sightseeing tours were on foot or by bike (giving Australian delegates the illicit thrill of riding a bike without a helmet); the venue selected had design features that meant air-conditioning was not needed; disposable coffee cups and bottled water were banned; and most documents were produced exclusively electronically.

IFMSA is divided into six standing committees, covering topics as diverse as public health, human rights/peace and medical education. As a delegate to the Standing Committee on Reproductive Health including AIDS (SCORA), I was privileged to attend a range of thought-provoking workshops, on topics including:

• the provision of sexual health and anti-discrimination (with respect to HIV/AIDS) education to high school students, medical students and junior doctors;
• effective techniques for advocacy in the area of sexual health;
• issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex patients;
• access to safe termination procedures, delivered by Ipas (an NGO that lobbies for access to safe termination for women around the world);
• the use of epidemiological data in relation to HIV/AIDS, delivered by UNAIDS; and
• the role of health care workers in providing appropriate services to the victims of human trafficking within our communities.

A number of panel discussions also catered to the particular interests of delegates, with topics ranging from nano-medicine to treating HIV/AIDS in an area of limited resources. I attended a panel discussion on access to essential medicines, in which two brave representatives of Danish pharmaceutical companies (Lundbeck, which produces a range of CNS drugs, and Novo Nordisk, which is a key producer of insulin products) were put through their paces by a sceptical audience and a fellow panellist from MSF’s Access to Essential Medicines Campaign. The lively discussion centred around alternative models to the current patent system, with MSF suggesting that the most important modification to the current system from an equity perspective would be to break the existing link between the expense of research and development and the final product’s cost to the consumer.

I also attended a fascinating presentation by a Danish businessman, Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen who describes himself as a ‘humanitarian entrepreneur’. Mr Frandsen invented, and distributed, a mosquito net impregnated with insecticide that he credits with reducing malaria by up to 50% in the countries in which it has been used.

Mr Frandsen also invented a product known as the Lifestraw, a water filter that requires little maintenance in the short to medium-term (and so is ideal for areas in which regular maintenance would be difficult). Interestingly, Mr Frandsen has distributed this award-winning invention at no cost to consumers in western Kenya, as he makes his profits by selling the carbon credits he receives for distributing a product that significantly reduces the need to burn firewood to render drinking water safe. Mr Frandsen stated that it was his firm view that environmentally-friendly and socially responsible activities are entirely conducive to good business; he has certainly had significant success in this area to date.

The IFMSA general assembly was a great learning experience and provided me with much to think about upon my return to Australia. I am grateful to the Australian Medical Students’ Association for selecting me to attend, to the University of Newcastle Medical Society for assisting me with my costs, and to my PBL tutors for letting me go! If you would like more information about any of the workshops I attended, please contact me at