Last week I attended the 29th Asian Medical Students’ Conference (AMSC) in Tokyo along with 450 other medical students like me from 20 countries in Asia and Pacific. Our aim: to fight non-communicable diseases and promote a healthy lifestyle in the Asia and Pacific.
To be honest, my expectations from the conference were quite low. After all, what can you expect from a student conference? Do we, medical students, have enough knowledge to be talking on a vast topic such as non-communicable diseases? Are we even capable of commenting on health policies in our countries and Asia?
But what a conference it turned out to be! Not only was I proved wrong, but also left amazed as the conference unfolded what medical students are capable of. The quality of papers presented by students on the current scenario of health care and non-communicable diseases in their countries was, in my opinion, comparable to that of experts in this field.
And talking of experts, many big names from Japan (the regional director of WHO, doctors from AMDA, public health experts and clinical academics) guided us during the conference through their speeches and lectures. What was more interesting was that they did not just talk about non-communicable diseases but also gave invaluable and sometimes even philosophical suggestions regarding our career opportunities as doctors, public health experts and leaders.
The academic program deserves credit. It consisted of group discussions and field visits. The group discussions were conducted in problem based learning (PBL) style and each group was formed in such a way to include as many different countries as possible. The outcome: different perspectives from different countries.
The field visits provided an insight into the Japanese health care systems. It was during one of these field visits that we came across the “waist size story” program in a health centre. Having derived its name from a famous musical West Side Story, the program encourages people to exercise regularly to decrease their waist size. They even have a competition, quite like the TV program- the biggest loser, in which community members take an oath to reduce their waist size by a certain amount in four months.
The health centre also has cooking and exercise classes to teach about healthy lifestyles. They also have automatic machines around the town where common people can measure their blood pressure and weight for free.
But the conference was not all about academics. It was more about having fun and making friends than anything else. It was about enjoying the rich Japanese culture, eating our food with chopsticks, sightseeing in Tokyo and singing with friends in the karaoke bars.
No wonder we all cried and hugged each other during the closing ceremony. This is something that you will not probably see in any other international conference. This is the uniqueness of a student conference. Ten days is a short time but sticking together in a group made us so close to each other that the thought of parting was, indeed, a painful one.
Having returned to my country (Nepal) now, I am proud to have close friends all over Asia. This, perhaps, is the first step in our combined fight against non-communicable diseases in this region. A connected Asia- there could not have been a better way to begin with. There is so much to learn from each other. Yes! Asia has its own waist size story. It is getting smaller.
Siddharta Yadav is a medical student in Nepal and a former BMJ Clegg Scholar.