Opening day of World Health Assembly: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in focus

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan opened the Sixty-ninth World Health Assembly with words of celebration, warning and hope.

Dr Chan celebrated recent progress in global public health, particularly in combating HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and poliomyelitis, as well as in improving maternal and child health. But she warned that the recent outbreaks of Ebola, MERS coronavirus, Zika and urban yellow fever signalled a "dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases". 

Dr Chan also highlighted the "slow-motion" disasters of a changing climate, antimicrobial resistance and the rise of chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer, heart and lung disease and diabetes. 

"Unchecked, these slow-motion disasters will eventually reach a tipping point where the harm done is irreversible." The 2030 agenda for sustainable development, however, aims to avert such disasters, inspiring "optimism and hope". Dr Chan emphasized that health plays a central role in the new agenda, and that universal health coverage will be crucial to achieving health-related targets. 

Highlights for the European Region

  • The Twenty-third Standing Committee of the Regional Committee (SCRC) met on 21–22 May to discuss the agenda and programme of the upcoming 66th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in September. The SCRC welcomed the work of the WHO Secretariat in developing the mid-term reports, action plans and strategies that will be presented to the Regional Committee, and provided suggestions on how to develop these documents further.
  • In a bilateral meeting on Saturday 21 May Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, praised Dr Nurmuhammet Amannepesov, Deputy Minister of Health and Medical Industry of Turkmenistan, on the progress the country has made in eliminating measles and rubella. The Regional Director also underlined WHO/Europe's support in preparations for Turkmenistan's hosting of the Fifth Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in 2017. Discussions covered the international health regulations (IHR) and the leading role that Turkmenistan played in eliminating malaria in the WHO European Region.
  • The meeting between Dr Alexy Tsoy, Vice-Minister of Health and Social Development in the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the Regional Director focused on developments regarding the WHO centre for excellence in primary health care, which is due to open in Almaty in the near future. 
  • Mr Juras Pozela, Minister of Health of Lithuania, met the Regional Director on Monday morning. Dr Jakab congratulated the Minister on the success of last year's Regional Committee, which took place in Vilnius, and praised the delegation for its intersectoral approach to health issues: this will be essential for implementing the 2030 sustainable development agenda. The Minister asked for assistance from WHO at the policy level to review what has been done to address mental health issues, including depression and suicide. 
  • The development of a European strategy for women's health was one of the issues discussed at a bilateral meeting with Dr Sabine Oberhauser, Federal Minister of Health of Austria. The Minister also explained that many sustainable development goal (SDG) targets are already in place in the country. An important current focus for the Ministry is providing psychosocial support to refugee children. The Minister noted that Austria offers refugees full access to social and medical services, and that vaccination coverage among refugees is at 95%. 
  • During a meeting with the delegation of Israel, Zsuzsanna Jakab recognized the work being done to develop health information systems. Mr Yaakov Litzman, Minister of Health, outlined the goal to ensure that every citizen has a medical card to enable full access to services, and explained that healthy ageing was another priority.
  • The Regional Director met with Mr Ilir Beqaj, Minister of Health of Albania , on Monday afternoon. The Minister identified work on addressing catastrophic health expeditures, healthy ageing and the health workforce as key priorities. The development of an information platform for the South-eastern Europe Health Network was also discussed.
  • Malta's preparations for its Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2017 were the focus of discussions between the Regional Director and Mr Christopher Fearne, Minister of Health. Cross-border cooperation, obesity and access to medicines were identified as priority areas for the Presidency. At the end of the meeting, the delegation signed a country cooperation strategy and a biennial collaborative agreement, setting down priorities for joint work between WHO and the Government of Malta.
  • Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab met with Dr Saida Umarzod, First Deputy Minister of Health and Social Protection of Tajikistan, who explained that the Ministry's current health priorities are child and maternal health and tuberculosis. The Regional Director also outlined the focus on emergency reform and the move towards external evaluation of countries' IHR capacities at this year's World Health Assembly.
  • Switzerland chaired a lunchtime ministerial panel on dementia. Delegates recognized the need to develop national plans and overcome stigma associated with the disease, as cases of this "silent NCD" are rising.
  • Several delegations from the European Region took to the floor in plenary, including the delegations of Belarus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Israel, Kazakhstan, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Portugal, the Russian Federation, Turkey and the United Kingdom.  Many countries made reference to the SDGs, underlining health as a human right, and making a commitment to "leave no one behind". They also emphasized how important the WHO reform process is, to ensure that the Organization is effective in performing its global health governance role for implementing the SDGs. Several Member States made reference to strengthening health systems and WHO emergency reform, needed now more than ever to address global health threats.