Canada’s Youth Delegate to the World Health Assembly: An experience of a lifetime


by Nicola Toffelmire

From May 20 until May 31, 2017, I had the honour and privilege of serving as Canada’s youth delegate at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland. I saw the call for applications in October, 2016, when I was scrolling through resources that were shared on CCGHR’s Facebook page. I applied immediately by submitting a cover letter, CV, two references, and answered a few questions asking about my perspectives on current global health issues and my career aspirations. A few weeks later, to my surprise, I received an email from the Government of Canada informing me that my application was successful.

Preparing for the WHA as Canada’s Youth Delegate

The planning process for the World Health Assembly began early November when I was oriented to my role and invited to join external stakeholder consultations in preparation for the Executive Board meetings (held January 2017) and the WHA (held May 2017) hosted by the Office of International Affairs for the Health Portfolio at the Public Health Agency of Canada. A diverse group of individuals and organizations were invited to share perspectives based on the provisional agenda for each of the Executive Board meetings and again before the WHA. Key issues that were discussed by stakeholders include Canada’s role in: antimicrobial resistance; the draft action plan on public health response to dementia; adolescent’s health; health emergencies; and access to medicines.

Amplifying youth voices in official Canadian positions

In my capacity as Canada’s youth delegate, I was determined to strengthen the level of engagement among students and young professionals and ensure our voices are collectively heard at both the national and international levels. Thus, I reached out to solicit views on current global health issues from key youth networks, organizations and individuals, including:

CANDELThese organizations, among others consulted, were well-informed on current global health issues, identified key challenges, and offered innovative programs and policies to jointly strengthen the voice of Canadian youth. Each consultation added valuable youth input on Canada’s policies and were integrated into Canadian positions and statements at the WHA. Discussion topics of interest among students and young professionals were: health emergencies; research and development for potentially epidemic diseases; health workforce coordination; health of migrants and refugees; antimicrobial resistance; global vector control; dementia; women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health; world drug problem; mental health; and tobacco control.

A seat at the table: My highlights from WHA70

While in Geneva, our Canadian delegation was led by the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health. As the Canadian youth delegate, I attended committee meetings to support debates on technical and health matters, plenary sessions to listen to reports and adopt resolutions, technical briefings on new developments in specific public health topics, side events on a range of global health issues (e.g. sexual and reproductive health and rights, adolescent health, attacks on healthcare workers, global mental health), and networking events with distinguished guests, such as the newly elected WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Three highlights of my experience were:

1. Delivering Canada’s position statement on the Draft global action plan on the public health response to dementia, which was later adopted by member states who committed to developing national strategies and implementation plans to improve the lives of individuals living with dementia, along with their families, communities, and caregivers.

Can Youth2. Co-facilitating a meeting on global health issues with the Honourable Dr. Jane Philpott and Canadian youth from diverse disciplines (medicine, nursing, public health, etc.). Other distinguished guests that participated include: Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer; Ambassador Rosemary McCarney, Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva; Ms. Sarah Lawley, Director General of the Office of International Affairs for the Health Portfolio; Honourable Mike Lake, PC, MP for Edmonton-Wetaskiwin and Official Opposition Critic for Global Maternal, Newborn and Child Health; Dr. Horacio Arruda, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Government of Quebec; and Dr. Suzanne Jackson, Chair of the Canadian Public Health Association.

3. Meeting like-minded individuals, especially young people attending the WHA from Canada and other countries. Students and young professionals are one of the greatest untapped resources and it is incredible to see the level of determination and passion that our generation manifests.

1.8 billion strong

As Canadians, we are fortunate to be one of few countries who have implemented a youth delegate position at the WHA. Youth engagement is crucial for implementing effective programs across the globe. We are the next generation and our voices must be heard at the highest decision-making levels to ensure policies are inclusive and encompass our needs to access quality health services. After all, we represent over 1.8 billion of the world’s population. I hope that in the years to come, we will continue to see more and more countries at the WHA with a youth delegate advocating for their countries’ health concerns.

You can get involved too!

If you are a youth interested in contributing your perspectives on global health issues for the upcoming Regional Committee of WHO for the Americas in Washington DC (September 25-29, 2017), please email me:

Please stay tuned for the application to be Canada’s Youth Delegate to the 71st World Health Assembly (May 2018) as it will be posted on the CCGHR Facebook page when it is available.

Nicola Toffelmire is a member on the CCGHR Board of Directors and Co-Director of CCGHR’s Students and Young Professionals Network. Currently, she is completing a Master of Public Health at Simon Fraser University and interning at the World Health Organization Office at the United Nations in New York City. She has held positions at the International Development Research Centre, Canadian Institute for Health Information, Department of Global Health at Queen’s University, and Simon Fraser University. In September 2017, she will pursue an MSc International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.