Day 3 of the World Health Assembly: New Health Emergencies Programme adopted

On the third day of the Sixty-ninth World Health Assembly, WHO Member States agreed to one of the most profound transformations in the Organization's history – establishing a new health emergencies programme. The programme adds operational capability for outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies to complement WHO's traditional technical and normative roles. It is designed to allow delivery of rapid, predictable, comprehensive support to countries and communities in preparing for, facing or recovering from emergencies due to any hazard to human health, including disease outbreaks, natural and man-made disasters and conflicts.

In order to fulfil this new responsibility, delegates agreed to a budget of US$ 494 million for the programme for 2016−2017. This is an increase of US$ 160 million over the existing Programme Budget for WHO's work in emergencies.

Broad support for emergency reform

Delegates welcomed the progress WHO has made in preparing the new health emergencies programme. During interventions made on 24 and 25 May 2016, delegates of countries in the European Region expressed their support for the new programme. The delegate of Armenia stated, "We believe that WHO should continue to play a key role in responding to public health problems of international concern, particularly in emergency situations, because it has to meet not only the humanitarian needs of the affected population, but also use multi-disciplinary approaches to tackle complex health problems."

Interventions were also made by delegates of Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova and Turkmenistan. The delegate of Romania, speaking on behalf of the European Union during the plenary session on 25 May, emphasized that the experience of the Ebola virus disease outbreak has taught the world that we need a strong WHO that is able to respond to health crises.

Wide range of health topics debated and discussed

A drafting group on Health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development discussed mainstreaming of gender equality and empowerment in the resolution on this topic; however, consensus was not reached on the issue during the session.

Several Member States in the European Region made interventions on the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005), including Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom. The speakers said that, until the IHR are fully implemented, the risk for infectious disease threats will remain unacceptably high. Member States emphasized that full compliance will require the development and/or strengthening of national health systems, taking into account the lack of both financial and human resources in some countries. Most delegates supported the recommendations of the IHR Review Committee.

Other topics on the agenda during the third day included pandemic influenza preparedness and the increased risk for re-emergence of smallpox, which led to an exchange of views about the destruction of virus stocks. Discussion of the smallpox virus repositories was postponed until the World Health Assembly in 2019. The Global action plan on antimicrobial resistance was mentioned by delegates of many Member States, who welcomed the progress in implementing the plan and acknowledged WHO's work in this area.

Side events focus on health employment and people-centred health care

The work of the United Nations High-level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth was discussed at a meeting on 24 May. Established in March 2016, the Commission is charged with proposing guidance for the creation of jobs in the health and social sectors as a means of advancing inclusive economic growth, with specific consideration of the needs of low- and middle-income countries. The Commission will propose multisectoral responses to ensure that investments in health employment generate benefits for the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Commission includes the following members from the European Region: Dr Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissoner for Health and Food Safety, European Commission; Mr Hermann Gröhe, Federal Minister of Health, Germany; Mr Bent Høie, Minister of Health and Care Services, Norway; and Dr Maris Jesse, Director of National Institute for Health Development, Estonia. It is co-chaired by H.E. Mr François Hollande, President of France.

A side event organized by Slovenia focused on integrating public health within primary health care. Speakers highlighted the importance of public health legislation, also pointing to the importance of cross-sectoral policies to achieve the SDGs. Transparency and accountability were emphasized as necessary for increasing the uptake of health services in poor countries. Several examples of community care were cited, indicating its effectiveness for blending public health and primary health care.