World Health Assembly: Delegates discuss noncommunicable diseases, WHO finances, pandemic influenza preparedness

WHO/Pierre Albouy

Dr Eva Siracká, President of the Slovak League against Cancer from Slovakia (centre) receives the 2011 Sasakawa Health Prize, congratulated by Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General and Dr Christos Patsalides, President of the Sixty-fourth World Health Assembly

During the third and fourth days of the World Health Assembly (18–19 May), Member States discussed a range of issues, including noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), the programme budget and the future of financing for WHO, health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory, pandemic influenza preparedness and the promotion of women’s and children’s health.

Six prizes were awarded to leaders in public health. The recipients included Dr Eva Siracká, President of the Slovak League against Cancer, Slovakia. She was given the twenty-seventh Sasakawa Health Prize, jointly with the Pequeña Familia de María/Albergue Maria Association, Panama, for innovative work in primary health care.

Highlights for the European Region

Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, met with delegations from:

  • Andorra, to discuss the bilateral collaborative agreement for 2012–2013;
  • Azerbaijan, to discuss the logistics support for the upcoming sixty-first session of the Regional Committee in 2011;
  • Belgium, to discuss the country’s membership of both the Executive Board and the Standing Committee of the Regional Committee;
  • Kazakhstan, to discuss opioid substitution therapy with methadone and the proposal for a WHO office on primary health care in the country; and
  • Malta, to discuss the preparations for the sixty-second session of the Regional Committee.

Noncommunicable diseases

Delegates and partners in global health discussed NCDs such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases. Member States examined the current NCD epidemic and prospects for the high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September. WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan described the upcoming meeting as the chance to secure global political commitment and cooperation. Member States in the European Region were to meet on 20 May to follow up the high-level consultation on NCDs held in Oslo, Norway in November 2010.

Future of financing for WHO

Continuing the discussions from the previous day, Member States expressed strong support for the reform process, emphasizing the need for WHO to provide strong leadership while maintaining its independence and neutrality. Dr Chan pledged to lead the process with full transparency and consultation with Member States.

Programme budget 2012–2013

Committee A discussed and approved the programme budget of US$ 3.959 billion, revised from US$ 4.804 billion. It was recognized as a transitional budget, responding to financial austerity and preparing for a series of reforms. The approved budget for 2010–2011 was US$ 4.54 billion.

Occupied Palestinian territory

Committee B approved a resolution on health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan. The resolution calls on Member States, intergovernmental agencies and intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations to provide assistance to meet urgent health and humanitarian needs, among other requests.

Pandemic influenza preparedness

Committee A agreed on a framework for pandemic influenza preparedness, the culmination of four years of negotiation. The framework will, for example, improve sharing of influenza viruses and access to vaccines. Member States agreed that it lays the groundwork for better preparedness and better access to tools and knowledge. The next phase is to ensure the implementation of the agreement.

Promotion of women’s and children’s health

A panel led by the United Nations Commission for Information and Accountability presented a clear outline, complete with target dates, for promoting women’s and children’s health. It included consistent and accurate data, regular programme monitoring and integration of information and communication technologies. Norway pledged US$ 9.5 million to back these plans in developing countries, but Dr Chan stressed that “domestic investment is the most important thing in development”.

Appointment of External Auditor

Committee B considered five nominations for the appointment of the External Auditor: France, Germany, Malaysia, the Philippines and Spain. Each nominee gave a short presentation, and after two rounds of voting the Philippines was selected.

Awards ceremony

Dr Chan and World Health Assembly President Dr Christos Patsalides gave six prizes to leaders in public health. The recipients ranged from professors to directors of non-profit-making groups from around the world, and included Dr Eva Siracká, President of the Slovak League against Cancer.