Rachel Faber
The Silhouette

On the first day of class, the course outline for Health Sciences 4ZZ3 was thrown away. Instead of learning about advocacy, students would be practicing it.

Though the course has been running for four years at McMaster, this is the first year that experiential education has been a part of the curriculum.

Lead by professor Steven Hoffman, this class takes a problem based learning approach and applies it to global health advocacy. Hoffman explained that this benefits students by pushing them out of their comfort zones and into “doing things they have never done and probably didn’t think they ever would be doing.”

Through this hands-on approach, students have been speaking to Members of Parliament, civil society leaders, and key stakeholders about the policy options that they have been formulating. In prednisone 100 mg order to make their ideas effective and politically feasible, the students have formed an organization called Global Access to Medicines, to advocate for change and engage in global health policy issues.

Their mission is to facilitate Canada’s role in access to medicine, introducing an initiative into the existing “Orphan Drug Framework”, which regulates drugs for rare diseases.

The students saw a policy window in Canada, which has created an opportunity for them to actually make a difference. The students are proposing to give more incentive to pharmaceutical companies with something called “Priority Review Vouchers”, which will allow companies to release drugs onto the market 12 months earlier than they would normally be able to.

Orphan Drugs are expensive to invest in, and this new idea would mean huge revenue for the drug companies and large strides in the research of these important drugs for rare diseases.

Some students from the class attended a conference on Nov. 11 and 12, to which they were invited by the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders. The goal of this conference was to make any last minute changes to the Orphan Drug Framework that CORD will be presenting to the House of Commons this winter.

The students had the opportunity to present their idea about Priority Review Vouchers in Canada, which has already been a success in the United States. They were the youngest people at the conference by a landslide, and they had a lot of great responses from academics and pharmaceutical companies who attended.

This opportunity to attend the conference has given the students “a real seat at the table,” according to fourth-year Arts and Science student Sarah Silverberg.

The students feel that the most valuable thing they are learning from this course is how to advocate, reach out and talk to stakeholders who can help them reach their policy goals. The students expressed that the process is long and tedious, and are learning just how difficult it is to form policies.

“I’ve been so excited to see my students get more confident in themselves as advocates…this is very much their campaign, not mine,” said Hoffman. The students have been surprised at the positive reactions that they are getting from MPs, Industry Canada and Health Canada.

In December, three students will be heading to Ottawa to meet with more lobbyists from Industry Canada to further discuss their ideas. These important individuals have given the students advice to shape their campaign moving forward.

Hoffman notes that this allows his students to become a part of the public discourse, “their voice is a legitimate voice.” Overwhelmingly, the students in the class admit that this course was not what they were expecting.

“I think we’ve all been surprised at how seriously everyone takes us, if we take ourselves seriously,” said Silverberg.

Hoffman explained that experiential education still remains an experiment, about whether this is the best way to deliver a course on global health advocacy, but the results have been extremely promising.

Said Hoffman, “It’s amazing to be at McMaster where this type of really innovative and wacky educational experiment is not only supported but celebrated.”

 

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