As the President of St Andrews Students for Global Health stated, the ultimate goal of the newly revamped society is to promote “an awareness of a range of different global health issues and some of the actions you can take to make a difference within these issues.”
The Saint sat down with Mr Scott to discuss the new direction of the society. This new focus first emerged at the 2017 Spring General Assembly when the committee voted to change their name from Medsin, a decision that Mr Scott describes as a move to better “reflect the diverse membership.” They feel the name change has been met with a positive response by students and created increased non-medic involvement.
Continuing on the theme of wider student participation, they stress that this is not a medics-only society. Rather, they welcome “students from all backgrounds with an interest in a wide range of global health issues from disease and sanitation to human rights and peace.”
The previous semester’s topical monthly discussions called the WheyChatChos will continue to be held at the WheyPat Tavern this year. Other upcoming presentations will include ‘Food Waste’ and ‘Conflict and Disarmament’. One of their most popular events, WheyChatChos, is usually at maximum capacity. Mr Scott quips that “of course the offer of free nachos for members does help.”
Another well attended event from last semester was a talk given by Angelica Cabezas. Ms Cabezas is pursuing her doctorate at the University of Manchester and originally hails from Chile. She screened sections of her documentary which tackles the stigmas and consequences of HIV.
In order to increase awareness across a wide range of global health issues active participation and visibility is required. As such, the society has many more exciting events planned.
Mr Scott added that the society will also “be hosting a workshop where attendees will have the opportunity to participate in an interactive simulations based around a humanitarian crisis.” It is this type of activity, with an emphasis on member participation, that has become the new focus of the society.
Furthermore, St Andrews Students for Global Health are focused on uniting students from across universities.
Along that theme, Mr Scott explained the group’s upcoming regional training activity. Held in March, the day “will bring members from across Scotland and Northern Ireland to St Andrews for workshops on things like leadership, campaigning and personal development.” So far, St Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen have confirmed attendance. According to Mr Scott, “it’s looking like it will be a busy event and a good chance to network with people from across Scotland.”
Reflecting on previous events Mr Scott mentioned last semester’s Mental Health First Aid training course which was given by Mental Health First Aid Scotland (MHFAS). In addition, Mr Scott stated, “we organised a Mapathon to support the Missing Maps campaign, which uses open source maps to highlight residential areas and important infrastructure to assist organisations such as MSF to deliver aid in developing countries.”
Along with a new name, the society has also honed in on certain issues that they wish to focus on this semester. One of those topics, aligning with the discussion presided over by Ms Cabezas, is HIV/AIDs.
Mr Scott emphasized that HIV/AIDS has always been a priority of the society. St Andrews Students for Global Health and their predecessors Medsin maintain a close affiliation with the organization Youth Stop AIDS.
Mr. Scott recounted how in the past, they hosted speakers from Waverley Care to help people become aware of the services available to them if they are affected by HIV.
St Andrews Students for Global Health hope to bring this discussion to the forefront. Mr Scott outlined the societies plans which include World AIDS Day. On last year’s World AIDS Day, the society made that months WheyChatChos a discussion of the commonly held misconceptions that surround an HIV/AIDS diagnosis.
Furthermore, Mr Scott emphasized that the society “also uses street advocacy/petition signings to bring attention to funding issues for HIV medications both in the UK and in developing countries”. In addition, they are in Mr. Scott’s words “supporting the Youth Stop AIDS Speakers Tour 2018 which will be travelling around the UK with people from the UK and developing countries describing their experiences living with HIV/AIDS.” [Their] nearest stop will be in Dundee on 20th February. More details of the Dundee event will follow in due course and be released through the Society’s Facebook page.
The St Andrews Students for Global Health as reflected in their previous World AIDS Day WheyChatChos discussion, recognizes the need to reduce the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS. In order to facilitate this, Mr Scott stated that the society is leading conversations about “the beliefs people hold regarding HIV/AIDS and hope to challenge some of the misconceptions that exist about the virus and those living with the disease.”
While St Andrews Students for Global Health focus on bigger picture conversations and providing information to the general public, they also recognize the need for practical support and resources. While they themselves do not provide these services, their close working relationship with other societies that do means they can easily point individuals in the right direction. Mr Scott stated, “We can signpost people to the different types of help available.”
The work that the society is doing to combat the stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS is vastly important, however, it is not their only major focus this semester. In addition to opening lines of dialogue about HIV/AIDS, they want to make mental health adominant topic of conversation.
According to Mr Scott, “it’s incredibly important to make mental health a dominant topic of conversation and we are really pleased to see the attention it is getting from the media and high profile sources such as the royal family.”
Mental health has been an important issue for the society since they spearheaded an On the Rock’s exhibition last year titled ‘Unspoken’. Describing the event Mr Scott stated,“[it] was a very well attended event and so the topic clearly resonated with a wide variety of people, both those who submitted artwork and those who came to view it.”
In order to increase mental health awareness, a WheyChatChos event has been dedicated to the subject. In addition MHFAS hosted a Mental Health First Aid training course through the society. These types of events help to create a public which is more educated on the symptoms, triggers, and side effects of mental health, especially in student communities like St Andrews.
As with HIV/AIDs the society focuses on raising awareness and reducing stigmatization, and alerting students on practical services that can be sought from organisations like Nightline. Mr Scott reiterated that their “main role would be signposting people to the appropriate professionals though of course any of the committee would be happy to chat with someone who has concerns about their own mental health.”
Mental health is an incredibly important topic to shed light on. Mr Scott believes its importance stems from the fact that “mental health issues are incredibly common and if we want to do something about that we need to get a conversation going so that people know they are not alone.” He said, “Mental health problems can have an effect on a person’s life that is invisible to others so we feel it is vital to create an environment where people feel comfortable opening up about what they are experiencing.”
From its name, it is clear that the society is not just concerned about health and wellness within the community, but has a wider outlook. Examining the global aspect of the society Mr Scott explained, “many events explore issues with global consequences such as War and Peace, HIV/AIDS, the Ebola and Zika outbreaks and the Refugee Crisis. Additionally, they are also part of The UK National Member Organisation of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations.”
Like many societies, St Andrews Students for Global Health strive to better town and gown relations. While their primary membership target is St Andrews students, they are welcoming to anyone within the community who wishes to become involved. Mr Scott explained that they are currently in the process of putting together an event that hopefully will appeal across the town and gown divide.
While fundraising is not the primary aspect of this society, they recently raised money for the charity The Little Things in an exciting way. Mr Scott explained how they did “a charity skydive to raise money” with the purpose of “build[ing] outreach clinics in developing countries.”
Currently, the society consists of about sixty members, though they are actively looking for new participants this semester. The committee is made up of fifteen individuals with an AGM to be held sometime in April. Any students with a passion for global health should consider getting involved, and you do not have to be a medic!