Model World Health Organization Conference 2018

Mason students study drug policies, practices, and prevention

By Tisha Herrera, Staff Writer

On April 14, Mason hosted its third annual World Health Organization Conference (MWHO), where Mason students heard and discussed drug crises around the world and demonstrated a simulation of how an actual World Health Organization (WHO) Assembly would be delegated at their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The WHO is a health agency of the United Nations dedicated to helping people around the world access better public health. This mission includes research designed for the prevention and treatment of diseases, as well as helping those with physical and mental disorders in their overall well-being.

The MWHO conference is designed to teach students to “learn about all these different global health policy crises, or health crises in general,” said executive director for MWHO, Aisha Shafi.

When world health leaders come together, it can be difficult to find common ground on resolutions. MWHO “is meant to mimic” an actual WHO conference and give Mason students an “idea of what it is actually like to be put into the shoes of these leaders that are making these critical decisions.”

MWHO’s theme for their conference was “Drug Policies, Practices, and Prevention.” Teams were divided into two branches: delegates and volunteers.

Matthew Owens, MWHO theme director, clarified the differences between the two positions. A volunteer would be “working behind the scenes,” and a delegate would “have the choice of representing a country” to simulate an actual WHO conference.

Davide Genoese-Zerbi, a delegate Mason student in attendance, said the MWHO conference “is a lot of fun, because [delegates] end of solving ridiculous crises, and can come up with really creative solutions.” Last year, Genoese-Zerbi played Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, and MWHO simulated a crisis in which “there were some eco-terrorists who managed to get a biological weapon of botulinum toxin in New York and threatened to detonate it.”

During the delegate training lecture, Dr. Ruben Baler, the health science administrator from the Office of Science Policy and Communications at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said, “When it comes to policy, drug abuse, and addiction, there should be a kind of ‘Goldilocks paradigm,’ that there’s someone in-between the very cold, and the very hot soup,” where “there’s a lukewarm kind of soup that’s right for different countries—that’s very context dependent.”

Bailer transitioned his discussion into scientific reasoning behind why drug abuse should be discussed in public policy. What followed was a slide of the human dopamine system, a part of the brain that processes reward.

He explained the dopamine system in the human brain and its connection to drug consumption to show the “genetics of addiction,” and called for the delegates to consider “the ways in which genetic differences can contribute to interindividual differences in increased of substance abuse and addiction.”

Bailer explained that researchers from NIH found in 1999 that “people with high dopamine receptor levels, tend to experience the injection of Ritalin, a cocaine-like molecule, with adversity,” and the same people are also genetically less likely to take or abuse drugs, because they do not “like the experience of the magnification of the dopamine levels,” whereas the exact opposite is found with people with low dopamine receptor levels.

Photos by Tisha Herrera