World Health Assembly, day 2: newborn health and gender-based violence on the agenda

(From left) Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, and Salidat Kairbekova, Minister of Health, Kazakhstan, hold the signed agreement to establish a WHO office on Primary Health Care in Almaty, 21 May 2014.

Addressing gender-based violence

Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata, First Lady of Zambia (WHO Goodwill Ambassador against gender-based violence) and Melinda Gates, co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, addressed delegates at the World Health Assembly this afternoon.

Dr Kaseba-Sata deplored the prevalence of violence against women and girls and the extent to which cases of violence remain hidden and unrecognized. A former gynaecologist, she noted the lasting damage such violence can inflict on mental and physical health: “Almost all gender-based violence victims fall on the doorstep of the health sector.”

She stressed that the health sector has a responsibility to address the causes and consequences of violence. She called on delegates to ensure that everyone affected by violence has timely, effective and affordable access to all the health services they require, and that those services are free of abuse, disrespect and discrimination.

Improving newborn health

Ms Gates then highlighted ways to improve the health of mothers and newborn babies, emphasizing the value of linking efforts to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health – “the continuum of care”.

Highlights for the European Region

  • In a speech to plenary, the delegation of Norway underlined the need for international commitment to clean air. Norway has adopted an action plan on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), and the delegation also called on all countries to recognize that many people will live out their lives with chronic diseases. In conclusion, the delegation called for the establishment of an ambitious plan to address antimicrobial resistance.
  • The delegation of Malta addressed delegates on the issue of the post-2015 development agenda and ensuring that health has a prominent position on this. The delegation supported the principle on the post-2015 agenda of universal health coverage “centred on the right to life, health and treatment, sustained by equity and solidarity”.
  • The challenges of health sector reform, including reform of the pharmaceutical sector, and of strengthening disease surveillance – the importance of which was demonstrated during the recent outbreak of Dengue fever on Madeira – were two of the issues covered by the delegation of Portugal in plenary.
  • The delegation of Ukraine emphasized the importance of protecting medical staff in times of conflict, and described how health professionals in the country had maintained health care for the population despite a breakdown in the health system in recent months.
  • Ensuring that health systems adapt to address the health effects of climate change was the main focus of the delegation of Poland’s speech to plenary. The delegation noted examples of the negative impact of climate change on vector-borne and airborne diseases, as well as increases in cardiovascular diseases due to heat-waves and increased humidity.
  • The delegation of Sweden spoke of the need for sustainable action across sectors to address both the health impacts of a changing climate and antimicrobial resistance. Working across sectors was also essential for a new sustainable post-2015 agenda, the delegation concluded.
  • The delegation of Luxembourg spoke on several health issues: the devastating effects of climate change on marginalized populations; the need to redouble efforts to ensure that antibiotics remain effective; and the requirement for clear, coherent and measureable objectives in the post-2015 development agenda.
  • Increasing immunization levels in the country for poliomyelitis (polio), measles and rubella was the focus of discussions at a bilateral meeting with the delegation of Ukraine. In addition to the main priority of vaccination, the delegation outlined the country’s other health sector priority areas. These include building a new health system; strengthening primary care, with a focus on prevention activities; strengthening rehabilitation, palliative and hospice care; supporting under- and postgraduate education in the health sector; addressing maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis; and moving towards community mental health services.
  • Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, discussed developments towards establishing a new WHO geographically dispersed office (GDO) on primary health care in Almaty, hosted by the Government of Kazakhstan, during a bilateral meeting with Dr Salidat Kairbekova, Minister of Health.
  • The Regional Director praised Turkmenistan for strong achievements in tobacco control at a meeting with Nurmuhammet Amannepesov, Minister of Health. She also thanked the Minister for hosting the recent ministerial conference on NCDs in December 2013, and for the country’s ongoing commitment to tackling NCDs and their risk factors.
  • Susanna Huovinen, Minister of Health and Social Services in Finland, identified NCDs, health promotion, health in all policies and sexual and reproductive health as the Ministry’s forthcoming priorities, in discussions with Zsuzsanna Jakab. The Regional Director expressed her thanks for Finland’s ongoing support, noting that the Ministry will be hosting a Nordic/Baltic policy dialogue on implementing Health 2020 in June.
  • The delegation of the Republic of Moldova spoke in plenary on the steps the country is taking to address climate change, as major effects have already been seen. These initiatives include a study on the link between severe weather and mortality, and promoting alternative energy within the health sector.
  • In a plenary address, Dr Salidat Kairbekova, Minister of Health of Kazakhstan, noted growth in primary health care and improvement in health indicators in the country. She also underlined the progress made on increasing awareness of the risks of tobacco and alcohol consumption, as well as on fighting TB through a national plan to 2020.
  • The delegation of Iceland spoke of the effects of climate change in the country, such as receding glaciers and air pollution – from volcanic ash, for example. The delegation explained that the effects of climate change on health are not fully understood, and that environmental sustainability is a priority.
  • Addressing delegates, the Israeli delegation congratulated WHO on establishing the reform process and thanked WHO for its support on polio detection, surveillance and subsequent immunization activities in recent months.
  • The Italian and Romanian delegations sponsored a side event on autism spectrum disorders, which focused on empowering those with the disorder estimated to be 1–2% of the population) to reduce social stigma and improving research in this area.
  • The delegations of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Turkey sponsored a side event on antimicrobial resistance, which emphasized the need to improve public awareness of the issue, promote the development of new antibiotics and strengthen surveillance on consumption.
  • The Latvian delegation spoke in plenary of the link between climate change and vector-borne diseases, noting that indicators of Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis increased in the country after a mild winter.
  • In a plenary address, the delegation of Albania spoke of its primary health care system to address cancers, NCDs and mental disorders.
  • At a bilateral meeting between the Minister of Health of Albania and the Regional Director, the Minister explained that tackling NCDs, developing a health information system, paediatrics, cancer care and telemedicine were health system priorities in the country.