New programme for health emergencies announced on first day of World Health Assembly

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, addressed delegates on the first morning of the Sixty-eighth World Health Assembly. "WHO is the only international organization that has universal political legitimacy on global health issues," she said.

Chancellor Merkel called for a new plan to deal with "catastrophes" such as the recent Ebola outbreak. It highlighted the critical need for urgent, collaborative action in emergencies, and the importance of having efficient structures in place. Chancellor Merkel paid tribute to all those working to safeguard human health worldwide, urging them to "work together".

She pledged that, under Germany's presidency, the Group of 7 (G7) would focus on fighting antimicrobial resistance and neglected tropical diseases. She emphasized the need for all countries to have strong health systems and highlighted the key role of health in sustainable development.

New programme for health emergencies

In the afternoon, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan outlined her plans to create a single new WHO programme for health emergencies, uniting outbreak and emergency resources across the 3 levels of the Organization. "I have heard what the world expects from WHO," said Dr Chan, "and we will deliver."

The new programme will be accountable to the Director-General, and have its own business rules and operational platforms. It will have clear performance metrics, built on partnerships with other responders. It will set up a new global health emergency workforce, as well as strengthening its own core and surge capacity of trained emergency response staff. WHO is calling for a new US$ 100 million contingency fund. The Director-General plans to complete these changes by the end of the year. 

Highlights for the European Region

  • Francesco Mussoni, Minister of Health and Social Security, National Insurance, Family and Economic Planning of San Marino, was appointed Vice-President of the World Health Assembly, representing the European Region. At a bilateral meeting, Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, congratulated the Minister on his appointment, and thanked him for San Marino's hosting of the small-countries meeting in 2014. She explained that the 2015 meeting will focus on intersectorality, and the need to invest in health literacy and patient empowerment. She also encouraged San Marino to develop a country cooperation strategy (CCS) with WHO, to facilitate collaboration with the European Union (EU) and the United Nations.
  • During a bilateral meeting, the Regional Director and Kristján Þór Júlíusson, Minister of Health of Iceland, discussed the Ebola crisis in West Africa and response to the recent earthquakes in Nepal. The Minister confirmed his attendance at the forthcoming meeting for small countries in Andorra in June, and would continue to work on developing a CCS.
  • In a meeting with the Regional Director, Chris Fearne, Parliamentary Secretary for Health of Malta, raised the challenges of cross-border health, migrant health and hepatitis-vaccine pricing. The Regional Director offered WHO's support for strengthening regulatory work in Malta, and assisting the country in preparing for its EU Presidency in 2017. The Secretary discussed Malta's priorities for its Presidency, and requested WHO's assistance in preparing for the health-related events. The Regional Director also underlined the importance of addressing the immunity gap for measles and rubella among EU countries.
  • In plenary, a delegate of Latvia spoke on behalf of the EU countries, saying that "strong and resilient health systems with universal health coverage should be our common vision, to guide our work in a world with an unprecedented number of crises". The delegate emphasized that strong health systems help reduce disparities and inequities, and advocated the inclusion of social cohesion and the eradication of poverty in the discussions of the post-2015 development agenda.
  • A delegate of the United Kingdom expressed support for the Director-General's plans for a global health workforce to manage health emergencies, and underlined the need for all Member States to back the draft global action plan on antimicrobial resistance.
  • In plenary, a delegate of Norway explained how the country has facilitated negotiations on the draft resolution on air pollution to be discussed by the Health Assembly, and called on Member States to reach agreement on the resolution.
  • A delegate of the Russian Federation thanked the Director-General for laying the foundation for WHO reform, to increase the Organization's accountability. The delegate also spoke of the Russian Federation's commitment to address noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) through, for example, opening a WHO office on NCDs in Moscow, and training health workers in eastern Europe and central Asia.
  • Paulo Macedo, Minister of Health of Portugal, and the Regional Director discussed the implementation of Health 2020, particularly through intersectoral approaches. Other issues discussed at the meeting were the progress made in activities related to the CCS signed in 2014 and health security, including the importance of assessing countries' core capacity for implementing the International Health Regulations (IHR). The Minister was commended on Portugal's health-information collation.
  • During a plenary intervention, the delegate of Italy underlined that WHO is the leading global health agency, but that it must modernize its governance and revise its financial mechanisms. The delegate acknowledged WHO/Europe's support for the Public Health Aspects of Migration in Europe (PHAME) project, and underlined the need to combat human trafficking, as well as address migration.
  • A delegate of Greece emphasized the importance of ensuring that health systems are equitable, and called on Member States to work with WHO on a new model for pharmaceutical innovation, separating the cost of research from the price of medicines.
  • Committee A met on the first day of the World Health Assembly, to discuss progress on implementing WHO reform. Speaking on behalf of the EU, the delegate of Latvia commented that countries remain committed to the reform process, but more work is needed, particularly on governance. The delegate also underlined the need for strengthened reporting lines between the 3 levels of the Organization.
  • An evening side event focused on tackling obesity through food labelling and fiscal measures. Ministers and representatives of the delegations of Australia, Ecuador, Indonesia and Paraguay, who organized the event, explained the situations in their countries and the steps being taken to address obesity. WHO highlighted the green-keyhole system of food labelling used in Scandinavia as a means to help consumers buy healthier products within the food groups.