Update 3 of the World Health Assembly: highlights for the WHO European Region

During the final days of the Seventy-second World Health Assembly in Geneva, Member States came to a number of important decisions. These included:

  • a new global strategy on health, environment and climate change, which provides a way forward on how the world and its health community need to respond to environmental health risks and challenges until 2030;
  • a decision to accelerate and scale up action to prevent and treat noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) – primarily cancer, diabetes, and heart and lung diseases – and to meet global targets to reduce the number of people dying too young from these diseases;
  • the establishment of World Chagas Day, to be observed each year on 14 April;
  • declaration of 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife;
  • a decision to request WHO, inter alia, to work with the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) and other partners to improve influenza virus sharing, and to prepare a report with Member States and stakeholders on influenza virus sharing and public health in the context of legislation and regulatory measures;
  • the adoption of the 11th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11), to come into effect on 1 January 2022, as the foundation for the identification of health trends and statistics globally, the international standard for reporting diseases and health conditions, and the diagnostic classification standard for all clinical and research purposes;
  • a commitment to recognize patient safety as a key health priority, and to take concerted action to reduce patient harm in health-care settings, along with the establishment of an annual World Patient Safety Day on 17 September;
  • agreement to pave the way for better and faster services for time-sensitive health conditions, including injuries, heart attacks, mental health conditions, infections and pregnancy complications;
  • a new resolution to improve safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in health facilities around the world, noting that this is a critical measure for preventing the spread of infections, reducing maternal and newborn deaths, and achieving universal health coverage;
  • a 5-year global action plan to promote the health of refugees and migrants, focusing on achieving universal health coverage and the highest attainable standard of health for refugees, migrants and host populations;
  • a resolution on improving the transparency of markets for medicines, vaccines and other health products, in an effort to expand access.

Plenary addresses

Delegates from countries of the WHO European Region took an active role in debates focused on all of the major agenda items agreed above. They also took part in discussions related to human resources, with Germany, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom highlighting issues such as staff mobility, gender balance, safe work environment and zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

Regarding WHO reform processes – both the transformation agenda and implementation of the United Nations development system reform – Romania spoke on behalf of the European Union, underscoring that transformation should be implemented before the start of the next biennium and requesting more clarity on some of the specific changes. The Russian Federation and the United Kingdom also welcomed the direction of the reform process, but underscored the need for transparency and more detailed information. The Director-General assured delegates that WHO is prepared to be accountable for what the Organization has promised to achieve but reminded them that sustainable change will take time to implement.

European Member States also made interventions during discussions about ending tuberculosis, strengthening synergies between the World Health Assembly and the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, progress reports on both communicable and noncommunicable diseases, follow-up on the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on NCDs, and the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, among other topics.

Side events

Side events continued to be held throughout the final days of the Assembly, including one focused on WHO and civil society collaboration to drive progress on climate change and health, as well as an event on disease prevention and the role of primary health care in achieving sustainable universal health coverage. This latter event was co-sponsored by Estonia and Turkey.

The World Health Assembly closed on 28 May and will convene again in May 2020 in Geneva.