Sophia: "The internship was a masterclass in developing my understanding of health service design and delivery, and international diplomacy in the Asia Pacific region."
I arrived in the Philippines right at the beginning of Manila’s wet season. Some would say picking the three wettest months of the year to visit Manila was a bad idea, but it only added to the experience and appreciation for how a monsoon impacts lives.
As someone passionate about health and international diplomacy (particular between Asia and Aotearoa) to be accepted into the WHO internship programme was a dream come true.
The internship was a masterclass in developing my understanding of health service design and delivery as well as international diplomacy in the Asia Pacific region.
My project on the internship was to support the development of a document looking at primary health care initiatives case studies. The aim of this document was to provide a practical resource that describes how successful primary health care service delivery transformation initiatives can be developed and implemented in a way that is easy for other countries to modify to suit their context.
The work was fascinating as it required me to collaborate with the Western Pacific Regional office, with WHO country offices, and departments of health across a number of countries in the region.
Through this project, I was able to learn what health care services have been successful and strengthen my thinking on health-system design through many discussions with the expert staff at WHO.
I was the only New Zealander working at the WHO, which has approximately 300 staff, and I was the only person there from a ministry/department of health, so WHO staff members were particular keen to talk to me about New Zealand's health care system, and New Zealand’s experiences with WHO. Through these discussions, it provided me a valuable opportunity to reflect on New Zealand’s health system, including how we can truly centre Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Once I returned to New Zealand and my job at the Ministry of Health, I was immediately able to utilise my learning from the internship in my everyday work on health system design.
Throughout COVID-19, in my work at the Ministry of Health and now in Minister Verrall’s office, my experience with WHO, and in particular the Asia office, has proved invaluable. It has seen me allocated WHO-related work and it has been a great help when having meetings with WHO as I already have established relationships with staff members. Most recently, I have been able to utilise my experience in my current role as the Private Secretary, Health, for Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall.
I am incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity live in the bustling, thought-provoking and at times overwhelming place that is Manila.
On a personal level, I was able to make wonderful friends, eat lots of turon (deep fried banana) and gain an understanding (only scratching the surface of course) of the Philippines and it’s political history in a way that is only possible by living there.
Lastly, this experience confirmed my desire to live and work in more countries in Asia, and while in New Zealand utilise my Asia knowledge and skills in my work and my community activities.
The Leadership Network’s travel fund covered the cost of Sophia’s flights to the Philippines.
Views expressed in this article are personal to the author and are not to be taken as representing those of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.