Q&A with Yipeng Ge

Do you believe the lockdown measures in Canada have been a net positive for health, Considering all the repercussions of economic recession?

Really good question – and not an easy question to answer briefly! Public health measures (i.e. quarantine and self-isolation measures, including mandated closure of businesses, or widespread ‘stay-at-home’ measures) are not without additional unintended impacts on other aspects of society that also affect health and wellbeing. Economic impacts are certainly part of those ripple effects from widespread stay-at-home measures or ‘going back to a modified phase 2’ situation. All in all, I do believe that the public health measures and communications that have taken place thus far since the start of the pandemic in Canada, have been critically important in limiting the spread/transmission and impacts of COVID19 in our communities. I also do strongly believe that a very strong health and wellbeing focused response and recovery from COVID19, will also mean a strong economic response despite immediate economic recession prospects. We need our communities and workers to feel safe and to be healthy to have a strong economy. This also means having good social and economic supports so that people are comfortable in making the safe decisions, the commonsense decisions, and hopefully the easiest decision – being that of staying home when sick or working from home if possible, to limit the impacts of COVID19.

What are some ways undergraduate or young students can get involved in global health initiatives/learning opportunities especially if they are just getting started? How can we make the most of these opportunities to reap as much benefit as we can, particularly during the COVID-19 era? In turn, what are some ways that we can make an impact as students who are just getting involved in this field?

I believe I answered a variation of this question during the session, but a really great way is what you are all already doing! Coming to events like GHSYPS, and connecting and making networks with like-minded peers, colleagues, and mentors. Learn as much as you can, read as much as you can, and stay up to date on current events and issues (including asking why and how issues are presenting themselves now in the media and being critical of what you might not know, including different perspectives and historical contributing factors). Organize with one another to make impact – we are stronger together, and our ideas are better when we brainstorm together. Joining youth/global health organizations are also great places to start to join coalitions of the willing or communities of practice that are formed and ready to go to make action! Some examples being: Canadian Society for International Health, Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research, CanWaCH, the list goes on!

We are seeing growing cases of pandemic fatigue in Canada, with the flu season arriving what do you think the public and other health officials can do to inform the public on the importance of following public health measures?

We need to all double-down on the important public health measures that have been core to preventing and mitigating the impacts of COVID19. This includes (but certainly not limited to) really great handwashing and general hygiene etiquette, covering your sneezes/coughs with a tissue and/or using your arm and not your hand, wearing a mask, physical distancing, and of course, staying home from work/non-essential trips out of the house if you are sick. And remember to get your seasonal influenza vaccine! (most pharmacies now have stock, and lots of clinics and family doctors offices have walk-in appointments for flu vaccines).

And be a champion of these messages to others around you! You have a huge impact on the people that you spend a lot of time with – start a discussion on why vaccinations are important, how they work, and the importance of those core public health messages to limit the impacts of respiratory illnesses.

With so many important global/public health issues, how do you decide what to focus on? It feels overwhelming at times!

Totally! It can be overwhelming at the best of times. From my role as the youth delegate to WHO/PAHO – I take a lot of direction from my conversations and written feedback from my peers (you!) who are students, youth, and young professionals. Something I mentioned during the session too, was thinking about how we can have the most impact with the voice that we have, thinking about the role we are in and the table we are at – including who might not be represented and what voices/ideas might be silenced. How can we be allies to these issues? (Including knowing when to step aside to allow for those best positioned to speak on certain issues to have the space to do so)

From a personal perspective, it totally can depend on what global/public health issues interest you! I felt pressured throughout my undergrad years and medical school years to find a focus area in global/public health – and I see myself more as a ‘generalist’ and I have come to realize that, this too, is okay!

How did you become Canada’s Youth Delegate to the WHA and what similar opportunities are open to students interested in working in global health diplomacy?

Great question!

The recruitment process will be shared widely in the coming weeks for a call for nomination for the 2021 youth delegate (here is what a previous year’s call looked like for an idea).

Please stay tuned for more details – I will be sure to share updates via Twitter and LinkedIn with more details as they become available. 

For similar opportunities, I think these might be good to look into:

Global Shapers: The power of youth in action
OCIC Youth Policy-Makers Hub
World Health Organization (WHO) Youth Hub
Youth Climate Lab

What do you think Canada should do to combat the food insecurity issues that are being exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic?

Really great question. So many pre-existing inequities related to the social determinants of health have worsened due to the covid-19 pandemic through disruptions to employment, the economy, the food supply chains, and the list goes on. Food insecurity is certainly one of the many areas of issue that is threatening to disproportionately impact those that are in the most vulnerable situations, including people living in rural/remote areas and people with low socioeconomic status. I think the answer has to be immediate support to provide food aid relief through programming/services, working and collaborating with community organizations (I’ve personally been donating to local food banks in Ottawa, the community I live in) that have the networks to provide food aid relief, but also systems level changes that target sustainability and addressing root causes (improving affordability of food, assisting with housing, meaningful employment and appropriate compensation that allows for a livable (thriving) income), etc. and the list goes on!

What does the day to day life of a public health and preventative medicine resident entail especially as it relates to global health?

It can vary quite a bit! As a resident and future specialist in public health and preventive medicine, there is so much variation in the type of work I can/will be involved in. Including but not limited to clinical (one-on-one patient care) work, public health work at the local, regional, provincial, federal, and international levels. The day to day work generally depends on what kind of ‘service’ I might be attending to. Generally speaking though, my 5 years of residency training means I will spend a dedicated 2 years working on my clinical competencies (working in clinics, hospitals) and 3 years working on my public health competencies (academic training, working in public health units and agencies). There’s so much variety and it keeps things really interesting in residency training – as my training is divided into ‘blocks’ which are 1-month rotations. Clinical rotations are generally 1 block and public health rotations are usually 3-6 blocks in length.

Click here for more info on what public health specialists/physicians do. And the many different kinds of roles in public health!

How can we not centre global health discussions on economic investment cases but shift those conversations to a people-centred conversation?

A great question – I think about this a lot too. I think, in certain circumstances and discussions involving decision making or advocacy for global health resources or investments, we need to move away from simply providing the quantitative measures of the issues at hand and lean also (perhaps more, a lot more) on the qualitative measures, particularly with storytelling that gets at the core of WHY health equity and justice matter so much – as we all already understand, but how to convey this to others in an impactful way. People will remember how you made them feel. The statistics and quantitative measures, including evidence-based decision making, is so important, but it’s a fine balance of when to play what cards to advance a system that truly fosters health and wellbeing as the first and utmost priority. I hope that helps!

Yipeng Ge, Canadian Youth Delegate to WHA and PAHO

Yipeng Ge is a Chinese-Canadian, first-generation immigrant, and a humble and grateful guest of this land.

He grew up in Waterloo, Ontario and completed his undergraduate studies at McMaster University in Health Sciences (Honours) with a specialization in Global Health. He received his MD from the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine.

He is a resident physician in Public Health and Preventive Medicine (including family medicine) in Ottawa. He is Canada’s official youth delegate to the World Health Assembly and the Pan American Health Organization Directing Council – the highest decision-making bodies for the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization, respectively.

Yipeng is passionate and interested in tackling health and social inequities through addressing the social and broader determinants of health. Much of his academic and medical career has been guided by these values. He is passionate about health equity, community-engaged initiatives, and health advocacy work and enjoys running and bicycling along the Rideau canal, and spending time with family and friends.