World Health Assembly closes with European priorities on action agenda

WHO/Christopher Black

Delegates speaking with Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General

The Sixty-fourth World Health Assembly closed on Tuesday, after working for 8 days through a broad agenda that yielded 28 resolutions on global health matters, many of which have high priority in the European Region.

Highlights for the WHO European Region

  • Dr Christos Patsalides, Minister of Health of Cyprus, was appointed President of the Sixty-fourth World Health Assembly.
  • Professor Ferruccio Fazio, Italy’s Minister of Health, signed an agreement with Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, on a three-year project on the public health aspects of migration.
  • Delegates of European countries spoke in plenary, pledging support for the Director-General’s commitment to putting people first, and thanking Ms Jakab for the positive direction of WHO/Europe’s work.
  • In its plenary speech, Hungary, the current President of the Council of the European Union, welcomed the increasing global focus on noncommunicable diseases.
  • Delegates from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan updated colleagues on their responses to the poliomyelitis outbreak in the Region.
  • Dr Eva Siracká, President of the Slovak League against Cancer, Slovakia, received the twenty-seventh Sasakawa Health Prize for innovative work in primary health care.

The policy work of the Health Assembly began with the Review Committee’s report that the International Health Regulations helped the world prepare to cope with the influenza A(H1N1) 2009 pandemic, although global public health emergencies needed to be handled better. The Committee also declared that the pandemic had been real, and that its one-year investigation found no evidence that the pharmaceutical industry influenced WHO’s decision-making.

Pandemic influenza preparedness

The World Health Assembly approved a framework for pandemic influenza preparedness, the culmination of four years’ negotiation between WHO Member States. The framework will improve the sharing of tools and knowledge on the influenza virus, improve access to vaccines and bring other benefits. The next phase is to ensure the implementation of the agreement.

More than 2700 delegates, including health ministers and senior health officials from 192 WHO Member States (including the 53 in the WHO European Region), attended the Health Assembly. Nongovernmental organizations, civil-society groups and other observers also participated. Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General; Ms Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh; and Mr Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), gave the opening speeches.

WHO reform and finances

The delegates discussed and adopted the programme budget for 2012–2013, set at US$ 3.959 billion. The delegates recognized it as a transitional budget that would help the Organization respond to financial austerity and prepare for a series of reforms. Dr Chan told delegates, “The most important message for me was your clear consensus on the need for reform and your clear desire to see these reforms reinforce WHO’s position as the foremost authority on international health.”

New strategy to combat HIV

A new, comprehensive strategy to combat HIV was adopted. The Global Health Sector Strategy for HIV/AIDS (2011–2015) will guide action by WHO and countries around the world. If implemented, WHO’s recommendations could save at least 2 million lives and prevent at least 4.2 million new HIV infections. In addition, the draft European action plan on HIV/AIDS was presented to delegates, and will be submitted for adoption by the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in September.

Noncommunicable diseases

Delegates and partners in global health discussed noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases. NCDs pose one of the greatest challenges to health and development, contributing to more than 60% of deaths worldwide. Delegates urged heads of state and government to attend the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on NCD prevention and control, to be held in September.

Protecting health from climate change
Member States welcomed the priority that WHO has given to protecting health from climate change, and reinforced their own commitment, citing new initiatives ranging from regional ministerial meetings to implementation projects.

Social media

For the first time, Twitter was used extensively during the World Health Assembly. WHO tweets, on topics ranging from WHO’s reform agenda to pandemic influenza preparedness, reached well over 3 million people. WHO posted photographs on its Facebook pages daily. WHO/Europe contributed through its Twitter channel.

About the World Health Assembly

The Health Assembly meets annually in Geneva, Switzerland and is WHO’s decision-making body. Attended by delegations from all WHO Member States, it focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the WHO Executive Board. The Health Assembly’s main functions are to determine WHO’s policies, appoint the Director-General in election years, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget.