News Features - 70th World Health Assembly

Promoting healthcare for humanity

The 70th World Health Assembly was held in Geneva from 22-31 May, during which a new Director-General was elected and a wide range of important global public health issues discussed and resolutions adopted. Middle East Health reports.

In her final opening address to the World Health Assembly as Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan offered some advice to delegates “as you continue to shape the future of this Organization”.

She called on the Health Assembly to make “reducing inequalities” a guiding ethical principle. “WHO stands for fairness,” she said. Countries should also work to improve collection of health data and make health strategies more accountable.

Protecting scientific evidence should form “the bedrock of policy”, said Dr Chan, citing vaccine refusal as one of the reasons that the “tremendous potential of vaccines is not yet fully realized”.

She stressed the importance of continued innovation, citing the research partnership between WHO and others to produce an effective and highly affordable meningitis A vaccine that has transformed the lives of millions of people in Africa. “Meeting the ambitious targets in the Sustainable Development Goals depends on innovation,” she said.

She then asked governments and partners to safeguard WHO’s integrity in all stakeholder engagements. “The Framework for engagement with non-state actors is a prime instrument for doing so,” and to “listen to civil society”: “Civil society organizations are best placed to hold governments and businesses, like the tobacco, food and alcohol industries, accountable. They are the ones who can give the people who suffer the most a face and a voice.”

In closing, Dr Chan asked government representatives to: “Remember the people…Behind every number is a person who defines our common humanity and deserves our compassion, especially when suffering or premature death can be prevented.”

Delegates at the World Health Assembly reached a number of new agreements including on dementia; immunization; refugee and migrant health; substandard and falsified medical products; the world drug problem; childhood obesity; pandemic influenza, and the health workforce, among others.

Delegates at the World Health Assemblyendorsed a global action plan on the public health response to dementia 2017-2025 and committed to developing ambitious national strategies and implementation plans. The global plan aims to improve the lives of people with dementia, their families and the people who care for them, whiledecreasing the impact of dementia on communities and countries. Areas for action include: reducing the risk of dementia; diagnosis, treatment and care; research and innovative technologies; and development of supportive environments for carers.

They called on the WHO Secretariat to offer technical support, tools and guidance to Member States as they develop national and subnational plans and to draw up a global research agenda for dementia. Delegates recognized the importance of WHO’s Global Dementia Observatory as a system for monitoring progress both within countries and at the global level.

Delegates emphasized the need to integrate health and social care approaches, and to align actions to tackle dementia with those for other aspects of mental health, as well as noncommunicable diseases and ageing. They also highlighted the importance of ensuring respect for the human rights of people living with dementia, both when developing plans and when implementing them. Worldwide, around 47 million people have dementia, with nearly 9.9 million new cases each year. Nearly 60% of people with dementia live in low- and middleincome countries.

Delegates agreed to strengthen immunization to achieve the goals of the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP). In 2012, the Health Assembly endorsed GVAP, a commitment to ensure that no one misses out on vital immunization by 2020. However, progress towards the targets laid out in that plan is off track. Halfway through the decade covered by the plan, more than 19 million children were still missing out on basic immunizations.

The resolution urges Member States to strengthen the governance and leadership of national immunization programmes. It also calls on them to improve monitoring and surveillance systems to ensure that upto- date data guides policy and programmatic decisions to optimize performance and impact. It calls on countries to expand immunization services beyond infancy; mobilize domestic financing, and strengthen international cooperation to achieve GVAP goals.

It requests the WHO Secretariat to continue supporting countries to achieve regional and global vaccination goals. It recommends scaling up advocacy efforts to improve understanding of the value of vaccines and of the urgent need to meet the GVAP goals. The Secretariat will report back in 2020 and 2022 on achievements against the 2020 goals and targets.

Immunization averts an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles. An additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided if global vaccination coverage were improved.

Refugee and migrant health
Delegates asked the Director-General to provide advice to countries in order to promote the health of refugees and migrants, and to gather evidence that will contributeto a draft global action to be considered at the 72nd World Health Assembly in 2019. They also encouraged Member States to use the framework of priorities and guiding principles to promote the health of refugees and migrants developed by WHO, in collaboration with IOM and UNHCR, to inform discussions among Member States and partners engaged in the development of the UN global compact on refugees and the UN global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.

There are an estimated 1 billion migrants in the world – one in seven of the world’s population. This rapid increase of population movement has important public health implications, and requires an adequate response from the health sector. International human rights standards and conventions exist to protect the rights of migrants and refugees, including their right to health. But many refugees and migrants often lack access to health services and financial protection for health.

Health problems faced by newly-arrived refuges and migrants can include accidental injuries, hypothermia, burns, cardiovascular events, pregnancy and delivery-related complications. Women and girls frequently face specific challenges, particularly in maternal, newborn and child health, sexual and reproductive health, and violence. Children are prone to acute infections such as respiratory infections and diarrhoea because of poor living conditions and deprivation during migration and forced displacement. Lack of hygiene can lead to skin infections.

Refugees and migrants are also at risk of psychosocial disorders, drug abuse, nutrition disorders, alcoholism and exposure to violence. Those with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) can also suffer interruption of care, due either to lack of access or to the decimation of health care systems and providers.

Substandard and falsified medical products
“Substandard” medical products (also called “out of specification”) are authorized by national regulatory authorities, but fail to meet either national or international quality standards or specifications – or in some cases, both. “Falsified” medical products deliberately or fraudulently misrepresent their identity, composition or source.

The Assembly also agreed a definition of “unregistered or unlicensed medical products”. These have not been assessed or approved by the relevant national or regional regulatory authority for the market in which they are marketed, distributed or used.

The new terminology aims to establish a common understanding of what is meant by substandard and falsified medical products and to facilitate a more thorough and accurate comparison and analysis of data. It focuses solely on the public health implications of substandard and falsified products, and does not cover the protection of intellectual property rights.

Substandard and falsified medical products can harm patients and fail to treat the diseases for which they were intended. They lead to loss of confidence in medicines, healthcare providers and health systems, and affect every region of the world. Anti-malarials and antibiotics are amongst the most commonly reported substandard and falsified medical products, but all types of medicines can be substandard and falsified. They can be found in illegal street markets, via unregulated websites, and in pharmacies, clinics and hospitals.

Delegates agreed to adopt the new name of “substandard and falsified” (SF) medical products for what have until now been known as “substandard/spurious/falsely-labelled/ falsified/counterfeit (SSFFC)” medical products.

The world drug problem
Delegates agreed on the need for intensified efforts to help Member States address the world drug problem. They asked the WHO Secretariat to strengthen its collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Narcotics Control Board to implement the health-related recommendations in the outcome document of the 2016 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the world drug problem (UNGASS).

It has been 26 years since the Health Assembly made a decision on this topic. The Secretariat is asked to report back on progress in 2018, 2020 and 2022.

According to WHO’s latest estimates, psychoactive drug use is responsible for more than 450,000 deaths each year. The drug-attributable disease burden accounts for about 1.5% of the global burden of disease. Furthermore, injecting drug use accounts for an estimated 30% of new HIV infections outside sub-Saharan Africa and contributes significantly to hepatitis B and C epidemics in all regions.

Childhood obesity
Delegates welcomed a plan to implement recommendations made by the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. The recommendations aim to reverse the rising trend of children and adolescents becoming overweight and obese.
The implementation plan highlights the importance of tackling environments that facilitate access to and promotion of unhealthy foods and make it hard for children to be physically active. It focuses on preventing obesity throughout the life course, from the earliest years.

The implementation plan aims to help countries to fulfil commitments on addressing obesity that they have already made. These include pledges contained in the WHO global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs, the comprehensive implementation plan for maternal, infant and young child nutrition and as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The implementation plan stresses encouraging infants and young children to choose healthy foods through supportive policies and interventions, including taxation, marketing and labelling. The plan focuses on supporting and building healthy habits that last through the life course. It also highlights the need for shaping school environments and curricula as well as community environments to support healthy lifestyle choices – including the taking of physical exercise.

The plan includes recommendations on interventions to treat overweight and obesity in children, plus measures to prevent unhealthy weight gain in infants and young children.

Pandemic Influenza
Delegates reaffirmed the critical role played by the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework’s (PIP) as a specialized international instrument that facilitates expeditious access to influenza viruses of human pandemic potential, risk analysis and the expeditious, fair and equitable sharing of vaccines and other benefits.

They emphasized the importance of pri-oritizing and supporting global pandemic influenza preparedness and response, including through the strengthening of domestic seasonal influenza virus surveillance, manufacturing and regulatory capacities and international coordination and collaboration through the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) to identify and share influenza viruses with pandemic potential rapidly. The Health Assembly agreed that the WHO secretariat should comprehensively analyse, in consultation with Member States and relevant stakeholders, including the GISRS, the implications of amending the definition of PIP biological materials to include genetic sequence data and expanding the PIP Framework to include seasonal influenza. The delegates further agreed that the PIP Framework model has potential to be used for other pathogens.

The PIP Framework was set up in 2011 to introduce greater equity and solidarity among nations when the next pandemic strikes. The PIP Framework provides WHO with real-time access to approximately 10% of global vaccine production, enabling the Organization to send life-saving doses to developing countries in need.

Health Workforce
The Health Assembly agreed to a five-year action plan under which WHO will collaborate with the International Labour Organization, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in working with governments and key stakeholders to address the global health and social workforce shortfall and contribute to international efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The plan calls on countries to view the health and social workforce as an investment, rather than a cost, and take advantage of the economic benefits of growth in the health and social sector. It outlines how ILO, OECD and WHO will take intersectoral action on five fronts: galvanizing political support; strengthening data and evidence; transforming and scaling up the education, skills and decent jobs of health and social workers; increasing resources to build the health and social workforces; and maximizing the multiple benefits that can be obtained from international health worker mobility.

It also focuses on maximizing women’s economic empowerment and participation. It addresses occupational health and safety, protection and security of the health and social workforce in all settings. It also covers the reform of service models towards the efficient provision of care, particularly in underserved areas.

The action plan supports the WHO Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health: Workforce 2030. It will facilitate implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth, which found that, as populations grow and change, the global demand for health workers will double by 2030.

Our shared humanity

Listen to Dr Tedros ’s acceptance speech for the director-general position at the WHO. It’s 12 minutes – everyone in healthcare should watch this. watch?v=5oUdOYARcRA


World Health Assembly elects Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as new WHO Director-General

The World Health Assembly elected Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as the new Director-General of WHO on 23 May. He succeeds Dr Margaret Chan, who has been WHO’s Director-General since 1 January 2007.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was nominated by the Government of Ethiopia, and begins his five-year term on 1 July 2017.

Prior to his election as WHO’s next Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia from 2012–2016 and as Minister of Health, Ethiopia from 2005–2012. He has also served as chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; as chair of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership Board; and as co-chair of the Board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

As Minister of Health, Ethiopia, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus led a comprehensive reform effort of the country’s health system, including the expansion of the country’s health infrastructure, creating 3500 health centres and 16,000 health posts; expanded the health workforce by 38,000 health extension workers; and initiated financing mechanisms to expand health insurance coverage. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, he led the effort to negotiate the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, in which 193 countries committed to the financing necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

As Chair of the Global Fund and of RBM, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus secured record funding for the two organizations and created the Global Malaria Action Plan, which expanded RBM’s reach beyond Africa to Asia and Latin America.



Recognition for accomplishments in public health

International action by Cuba to support emergencies, including disease outbreaks such as Ebola – and lifelong dedication to reducing the hepatitis burden in Mauritania and Mongolia – gain recognition on the world health stage.

The prizes, established in the name of eminent health professionals, are awarded for accomplishments in public health. Every year, national health administrations and former prize recipients submit nominations. The WHO Executive Board, in its January session, designates the winners based on recommendations made by the selection panel of each foundation awarding a prize.

This year’s winners were presented with their awards on 26 May during the plenary meeting of the Seventieth World Health Assembly.

The United Arab Emirates Health Foundation Prize of US$20,000 went to Professor Lô Boubou Baïdy, 61, of Mauritania, for his significant contribution to the establishment of the national blood transfusion centres and laboratory services , as well as his fight against viral hepatitis, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

The 2017 Sasakawa Health Prize of $30,000 for outstanding innovative work in health development, has been awarded to Dr Rinchin Arslan for his remarkable lifelong contribution to the advancement of primary health care in Mongolia and specifically his work in fighting viral hepatitis.

The Dr Lee Jong-wook Memorial Prize for Public Health of $100,000 was awarded to the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade (Cuba).

Established in 2005 by more than 1500 Cuban health professionals, the Henry Reeve Brigade is integrated into the medical cooperation unit of the Ministry of Public Health of Cuba.

Cuba’s international medical emergency response experience began over 40 years before the establishment of the Henry Reeve Brigade, when physicians and nurses trained in disaster medicine and infectious disease containment, were dispatched to Chile in 1960 after a catastrophic earthquake. This marked the beginning of Cuba’s internationalist outlook and health cooperation.





Date of upload: 19th Jul 2017

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