First day of World Health Assembly focuses on universal health-care coverage

WHO/Pierre Albouy

The Sixty-fifth World Health Assembly, WHO’s annual global meeting of ministers and senior health officials, opened yesterday. Addressing the delegates, Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, described the impressive progress being made in public health and her optimism for the future.

“I think this drive to expand coverage is a powerful signal. Despite deepening financial austerity, the will to do the right thing, the fair thing, for people’s health prevails … . Universal health coverage is the best way to cement the gains made during the previous decade. It is the ultimate expression of fairness. This is the anchor for the work of WHO as we move forward,” she commented.

Highlights for the European Region

  • Dr Andrei Usatîi, Minister of Health of the Republic of Moldova, was elected Vice-President of the Health Assembly.
  • Turkey described its progress in reforming its health system in a technical briefing. The process has focused on eliminating barriers to access through improved transportation, widespread health-insurance coverage, improved workforce planning and distribution, and an emphasis on prevention.
  • Finland shared its experience with using performance-based schemes to improve health outcomes. The country is reforming its health and social services, to ensure that primary care and specialized care cooperate more closely. It is also improving working conditions for and encouraging continuous professional development by the health workforce.
  • The Swiss delegation announced that it is initiating a country cooperation strategy (CCS) with WHO, setting out its medium-term vision for technical cooperation.
  • The delegation of Austria met with Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, to discuss collaboration, as well as the country’s interest in increasing understanding of the links between nutrition and disease.
  • Finland’s delegation met with the Regional Director to discuss the need for more active steps to reduce the influence of advertising of unhealthy foods and alcohol, and the conference on health promotion to be hosted by Finland in 2013.
  • The Maltese delegation met with the Regional Director regarding the sixty-second session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, which will take place in Malta in September.
  • The delegation from Israel requested support on tackling the health consequences of an ageing population, and suggested that countries share their experience with adjusting retirement ages, for example.
  • The Regional Director also met Desislava Atanasova, the new Minister of Health of Bulgaria, congratulating her on the country’s recent introduction of a total ban on smoking in public places.