For the 70th time, global health leaders and decision makers from all 194 Member States gathered in Geneva for the World Health Assembly (WHA) – the annual get together to discuss and drive forward global health policy. As the supreme decision making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO), it sets the tone for the upcoming year’s focus and checks in on the progress that has been made towards a number of health priorities, targets and previous agreements. All manners of topics took the attention of the 3500 delegates, ranging from Ministers of Health, to Ambassadors, to civil society and WHO senior leadership. But amidst the frantic rushing around, numerous debates and events that took place under the watchful gaze of the United Nation’s peacocks, some key outcomes were realised. Here are five:
1.Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghenreyesus was elected as the new Director-General of the WHO
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was elected by the assembly to be the new WHO Director-General (DG). Nominated by the Government of Ethiopia, Dr Tedros will begin his five-year term on 1 July 2017. As DG, Dr Tedros is the head of the WHO and will have significant influence over the future direction of the organisation. 2017 was the first time in the history of WHA that the whole Assembly has elected the DG and Dr Tedros represents the first person from the WHO African region to hold this post. He has previously served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Health for Ethiopia as well as chair of the Board of, amongst other organisations, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.
Following his election, Dr Tedros took the opportunity to show the direction his leadership would take. He commented that, ‘all roads should lead to universal health coverage. And it should be the centre of gravity of our movement … it’s addressing the financial barrier. It’s addressing the challenge we are facing with regard to access to drugs. Addressing the barriers to equality, access to quality of care and diagnosis.’ At RESULTS, we know too well that these are some of the major causes of the health issues we work on and that we can’t overcome them without policy change. Dr Tedros’ appointment has gathered media attention and with his priorities on universal health coverage and transparency and accountability we’re looking forward to working with his team over the coming years.
2.Health Minister’s recommitted to making sure every child is vaccinated
The Global Vaccine Action Plan was endorsed by the WHA Member States in 2012 and acts as a framework for guaranteeing equitable access to vaccines. 2017 marked the GVAP midpoint and, with many targets off track, the Assembly endorsed a further resolution to strengthen commitments to immunisation in order to achieve the GVAP goals. Driven forward by Member States, it highlights the urgency and need for new and continued commitments. The resolution highlighted equity, the role of domestic resources, the risk of donor withdrawal and the support needed for progress. This new resolution provides a useful tool to hold member states to account, and will help to shape our discussions with policymakers in the future.
3.The Assembly got technical on immunisation
Chosen and attended by the current DG, Margaret Chan, there were only 3 technical sessions held at this year’s WHA: immunisations was one of them. These sessions provide the opportunity for Member States and civil society organisations to share knowledge and expertise to help improve the global response to an issue. With the midpoint of the GVAP providing focus, the speaker’s highlighted that political leadership, country ownership and increased capacity and human resources are needed to drive forward progress on immunisation. RESULTS’ report, Owning It, explores these themes in more detail.
4.Leaders praised Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria’s efforts to eradicate polio
Polio eradication could be the first success of the new DG. We’re closer than ever to this important goal, but we are not yet over the line. It is not a time for complacency. This tone was echoed by leaders during a four-hour session on polio, which included discussion and praise for Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate polio for good. Throughout the session, the Assembly also discussed some of the lessons we can take from the polio eradication programme and apply to other health interventions, when the polio programme eventually winds down. At the end, Member States agreed that at an action plan should be developed to establish what happens after polio has been eradicated and this will be presented at the WHO’s Executive Board in January 2018 and next year’s WHA.
5.Other important commitments were made!
With a week of meetings, side events and sessions there’s far too much to cram in here. Access to medicines, the Global Fund, non-communicable diseases and nutrition all received attention. As the year progresses, we’ll see how the week will impact on those lives that depend on it.