Flight of Ideas
(A Story Behind an Idea That Lead to a Flight to Geneva)
By Grace Impas
When Cyron Sarmiento chatted Sunshine Go to inquire further details about a contest posted online, he did not expect that in little over a week, they would form a team of their own. They did not expect to finish writing the proposal at all, given there were only three days left to the deadline. They did not expect to receive an email a week later, telling them that they will represent the Philippines in an international conference. And they definitely did not expect to fly to Geneva, Switzerland that same year and deliver that very project in front of World Health Organization officials. “It was all so sudden”, Sunshine says. What was this golden idea? And how did it sprung forth?
The post called for antimicrobial resistance project proposals in an international paper competition entitled “Innovate4AMR” hosted by the World Health Organization with International Federation of Medical Students Association, ReAct and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The challenge was to tackle social design within the AMR space, with the goal of implementing innovative projects in various countries around the world. This served as an avenue for the input of antimicrobial resistance ideas and proposals from global health community around the world through a hands-on approach. Delegates were able to share expertise and collaborate to generate solutions for a pressing issue that can have measurable impact in countries around the world. Over 1000 people signed up and Innovate4AMR received 145 proposals from student teams around the world. The contest was open to all fields interested in submitting. “There were pharmacists and veterinary doctors who joined the contest and won, not just medical students”, Justin Floro, a member of the team shares.
The St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine team was comprised of Cyron Sarmiento, a third year, Sunshine Go, a second year, Justin Floro, a second year, Anna Castro, a first year and Joshua Oliveros, a first year student. “It was not a requirement for us to have different year levels. We are an unusual team who banded together by circumstance.” Sunshine says. The person who generated the idea and organized the team was Cyron. He thought of the proposal’s idea through a pediatric lecture on antibiotic guidelines for pediatricians. The rest of the team aided him in looking for researches, references, and studies that would show the proposal’s benefit.
After several rounds of judging, first by an IFMSA-ReAct-WHO Technical Review Panel and then by a panel of expert judges, 11 winning teams were selected from Peru, India, Uganda, Honduras, Nigeria, Canada, the Philippines, the USA and China. Members of the 11 winning teams were granted with free flights to Geneva, Switzerland for the Capacity Building Workshop at the WHO head office. Food and accommodation was also offered and the participants were aided in the visa application.
When the team got there, they realized why they won. Their proposal, although written in haste, was what the judges were looking for. They had feasible objectives that creatively tackled antibiotic resistance down to the level of human behavior and knowledge instead of political and technical pursuits. Unlike the rest of the teams, the SLMC-CM team did not have a mentor, but was able to deliver their proposal with ease. They were also able to tour the WHO head office as well as the United Nations office in Switzerland.
“The idea is basically delayed antibiotic prescription.” Sunshine shares. Studies have shown that 3 days of waiting time does not affect clinical outcome; this three-day window period is a crucial step in differentiating viral and bacterial symptoms. In the Philippines, especially in its rural provinces, drugs are not sold by pharmacies or drug stores. The harsh reality is that most drugs and antibiotics are distributed by local vendors in baranggay sari-sari stores. The proposal is to educate not just doctors about the delayed prescription but also the drug distributors, local citizens, and informal sellers of medicine about regulating antibiotic use and distribution.
With the right idea, one can work at bullet speed because the quality will be in the content itself, not merely on the accessories, packaging, or marketing. Flight of ideas, as a psychologist would explain, is a phenomenon of rapid shifting of ideas with only superficial associative connections between them. While we label individuals with exquisite ideas as geniuses, we forget that ideas are actually thought points held in time, waiting to be mapped out in our minds; points waiting to be connected, much like a “follow-the-dots” ABC book. But this time, each dot is without a label or number, leaving the author with a task of endlessly guessing which dot should follow the next to create the best image as one traces them together. The team to Geneva showed that the generation of an idea can come from mundane inspiration and that even the simplest ideas could possibly help solve the one of world’s biggest problems today.