At RESULTS, we are clear about what we do: We use our voices to influence political decisions that will bring an end to poverty. Every year in Geneva, delegations from the 193 Member States of the World Health Organisation (WHO) gather to discuss health challenges of global significance. This is known as the World Health Assembly (WHA), where political decisions are made that can make progress towards the end of poverty. RESULTS’ staff attended the 71st WHA last month, and worked hard to use our voice to engage decision-makers and ensure that their political decisions were guided by strong evidence and were focused on poverty reduction.
The various agenda items, side events and resolutions could all warrant discussion and analysis, but we focused our attention on the following areas in which we could have the most impact:
Who would have thought breastfeeding would be so political? We know that a child’s best start in life is with 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding. This is then followed with breastfeeding up to the age of two years, accompanied by nutritious complementary foods. It is this approach that gives all children the best chance to survive and thrive. It really matters to a child’s future. And yet, a resolution reaffirming this and promoting new guidelines from WHO faced resistance from some Member States. RESULTS staff worked closely with organisations from across the nutrition sector to provide analysis to Member States to demonstrate the need for a strong resolution. Eventually, a resolution passed which, although weaker than the original proposition, was stronger than it would have been if nutrition advocates had not rallied in its defence. During discussions in the main assembly, RESULTS read out a statement on the resolution on behalf of other civil society colleagues.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was set up to achieve one goal – polio eradication. When this goal is reached in a few years’ time, the partnership will end. As this point nears, support for non-polio-endemic countries is reducing – this is better known as polio transition and it is a process which is happening now. The reduction in financing, for both continued polio immunisation and the health services which have also been relying on polio money, presents a huge challenge and we know that if not managed carefully, the damage to health systems could be vast. RESULTS focused its time at WHA to build the attention of Member States to the risks of polio transition, and particularly on some critical decisions being made about the future of GPEI as part of the WHO’s ‘Strategic Action Plan for Polio Transition’. The plan fell short of our expectations. There were, however, things to celebrate, with over 30 Member States speaking in the official polio transition session, directing the WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros on the next steps that need to be taken as a matter of urgency. Following this, RESULTS will focus on the unanswered questions still remaining on polio transition (see our concerns here) and the concrete actions required to ensure that immunisation and health systems do not suffer as polio financing changes.
TB, the world’s deadliest infectious disease, was firmly on the agenda this year, reflective of the unprecedented political attention on TB this year. In September, world leaders will gather on the side lines of the UN General Assembly for the first ever UN High-Level Meeting on TB. It was encouraging, therefore, to see many supportive statements from member states for stepping up political engagement on TB and support for the WHO accountability framework that was presented. For the UN High-Level Meeting to be a success, rather than empty rhetoric and another piece of paper, it is essential that member states at the High-Level Meeting agree to be held to account. As such, RESULTS prioritised gaining support from member states for a robust accountability framework to result from the High-Level Meeting, recognising the WHA as an important stepping stone towards the High Level Meeting and the role of WHO in continuing to lead consultations on the issue. This advocacy was conducted through outreach to the health representatives of the Geneva missions of various countries and meeting with various country delegations during the conference.