World Health Assembly Day 2: Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus elected new Director-General

WHO/L. Cipriani

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is elected as new WHO Director-General.

On 23 May 2017, the Member States of WHO elected Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as the new Director-General of WHO.

Addressing plenary following his election, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented, “All roads lead to universal health coverage. This will be my central priority.” He noted that only half of people today currently have access to health care without risking impoverishment.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also emphasized that he will seek to make WHO a better partner and more efficient. While working to ensure that everyone enjoys the best possible level of health, he will also focus on supporting “the most fragile, in the most vulnerable contexts”.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will succeed Dr Margaret Chan, who has been WHO’s Director-General since 1 January 2007.

Highlights for the WHO European Region

Plenary addresses

Many delegations expressed their condolences to the United Kingdom following the terrorist attack in Manchester on 22 May 2017.

  • During a plenary intervention, the delegate of Latvia outlined initiatives that the country has taken to address noncommunicable diseases, including establishing nutrition standards, banning the sale of energy drinks to children, preventing smoking in the presence of children and pregnant women, and setting up a health-promoting schools network. Recognizing that inequality and unequal access to services remain challenges, the delegate underlined that the health sector must actively promote health in all policies and disease prevention.
  • The delegate of Italy explained how the country prioritizes inclusion, particularly for those on society’s margins, and promotes community dialogue. The delegate noted that Italy has provided health services to over half a million refugees who arrived to the country by sea. Currently holding the G7 presidency, one of Italy’s priorities is designing effective strategies for health to mitigate the effects of climate change.
  • Speaking on behalf of the ministers of health of the Commonwealth, the delegate of Cyprus noted that universal health coverage is a means to achieve the highest level of sustainable health. The delegate informed plenary that the Commonwealth theme for 2018 will be enhancing the global fight against noncommunicable diseases and enhancing effectiveness towards universal health coverage. The delegate also described elements of Cyprus’s current national health system reform, which seeks to ensure that health services are inclusive, offer a free choice of health care provider and are financially sustainable. Using medicines more appropriately, introducing staff incentives, reducing hospital stays and investing in primary health care are included in the reform.
  • Noting that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is ambitious, the delegate from Portugal explained that, in its national context, health system sustainability and access to medicines are threatened by their high cost.
  • A delegate of Sweden underlined that a strong, transparent and efficient WHO is key to ensuring that health is integrated into all policies and to delivering the 2030 Agenda. Sweden has established an intersectoral agency and developed national plans in response to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The delegate also appealed for ensuring the sexual and reproductive rights of both men and women.
  • The delegate of Luxembourg underlined the importance of strengthening national health systems to ensure that they are well integrated and resilient. The delegate identified antimicrobial resistance, tobacco use and cardiovascular diseases as major challenges and indicated that work on oncology and genetics is important.
  • The delegate of Norway thanked the Director-General for being a “clear champion for global health”. The delegate praised the organization for establishing the Health Emergencies Programme, but noted that countries must also ensure that the Programme is appropriately funded in order to respond effectively in emergencies.
  • Describing the country’s national health system as a “gold standard”, at the forefront for organ donations and biomedical research, the delegate of Spain called on countries to work together to face new emergencies, including antimicrobial resistance.
  • During a plenary intervention, the delegate of Lithuania emphasized the need to train and retain health workers in order to deliver universal health coverage. The delegate also indicated that, as part of prevention measures, Lithuania will reduce the availability of alcohol by restricting advertising and sales.
  • The delegate of Turkmenistan described the country’s support for the International Health Regulations (IHR), and thanked WHO for its support in undertaking external audits of its work. This included preparing a road map for emergency preparedness and organizing simulation exercises in advance of the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games to be held in the country in September.
  • The delegate of Iceland underlined that the 2030 Agenda supports promoting and protecting health. The delegate explained that the country is placing increased emphasis on supporting mental health services at the primary level through electronic health (eHealth) initiatives, particularly for people living in rural areas.
  • Turkey’s delegate explained that the country is in the process of transforming its health system: it began by focusing on reducing the disease burden and overall mortality, moved towards strengthening service delivery, and is now focused on prevention and promotion activities – in particular tobacco control. In conclusion, the delegate noted that Turkey currently hosts over 3 million refugees, and appealed for stronger efforts to address humanitarian health needs.
  • The delegate of Poland commented that “Strong health systems start at home,” and emphasized that ensuring quality of care and patient safety are essential components of health systems.
  • During a plenary intervention, the delegate of Ukraine outlined the immunization challenges facing the country and requested support from partners to address the threat of poliomyelitis and measles.

Committee A: Preparedness, surveillance and response

Several Member States from the WHO European Region made interventions during discussions on health emergencies and the implementation of the IHR. On behalf of the European Union, Malta welcomed the work and the report of the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, and underlined the importance of ensuring that the programme is fully funded. Malta also supported the global implementation plan for the IHR, and asked for its endorsement. Delegates of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, the Russian Federation, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom supported these points.

Side events

  • Participants discussed the development of new technologies to prevent future health crises at a side event on the role of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). Norway, a founder of CEPI, underlined the importance of international collaboration between Member States, the private sector and civil society to prepare and respond to epidemics. Germany noted that research and development are needed during emergencies too, in order to ensure that effective interventions are available when needed and can be deployed quickly.
  • At another side event, the final report on the work of the High-Level Working Group on Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents was presented. The report includes 9 recommendations for creating an enabling environment, partnering with people, and strengthening evidence and public accountability. The session underlined the need for a transformative leadership agenda if women, children and adolescents are to realize their full potential for health and well-being.
  • A side event on stronger national health systems underpinning stronger health security was co-organized by the delegation of Turkey.

Bilateral meetings

  • During a bilateral meeting with WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, the new Minister of Health of Bulgaria Professor Nikolay Petrov requested WHO’s support and expertise in preparation for the country’s presidency of the South-eastern Europe Health Network and presidency of the Council of the European Union next year. Dr Jakab expressed her support for 2 national initiatives on tobacco control and nutrition, and invited the Minister to visit WHO/Europe to learn more about WHO’s work.
  • Immunization was a key theme of discussions between Dr Nasim Hoja Olimzoda, Minister of Health and Social Protection of the Republic of Tajikistan, and Dr Jakab during a bilateral meeting. The Minister explained that WHO provided useful support for its national immunization day. A particular focus of the meeting was addressing cross-border health issues, including vaccinating against poliomyelitis. The Regional Director praised the country for its work promoting immunization, particularly on tackling measles and rubella, and the progress made on health system reform.
  • Mr Carles Àlvarez Marfany, Minister of Health of Andorra, outlined a national event that will take place on 19 June 2017 to open a walking route promoting human rights and healthy habits, a priority area for the Minister. The Minister also explained Andorra’s initiatives on tobacco control and on the sustainability of the health system, in particular primary health care and digital health records.
  • Discussions between Dr Jakab and Dr Ulana Suprun, Acting Minister of Health of Ukraine, covered ongoing challenges in the country related to health financing and immunization. The Regional Director offered WHO’s support to address them.
  • Dr Søren Brostrøm, Director General for the Danish Health Authority, covered a range of issues during a bilateral meeting with Dr Jakab. Dr Brostrøm explained that the Ministry is paying particular attention to strengthening health systems and addressing chronic diseases.