The 2016 World Health Assembly: tackling big health issues

World Health Assembly

The World Health Organization’s 69th World Health Assembly on May 23-28 will set the global health community’s agenda for the next 12 months, and more.


The Assembly is WHO’s overall decision-making body, originally set up to promote health and ease the burden of disease worldwide.

The conference brings together delegates from the organization’s 194 member states to discuss and set policy guidelines and worldwide health objectives. It also has responsibility for financial policies, and reviewing and approving program budgets. It meets in both Committee and Plenary sessions in Geneva every year.



On the agenda: development goals, vaccines and antibiotic resistance


The 2016 Assembly is expected to be the largest ever, and as such will tackle some of the biggest issues facing the international health community today.


As part of its efforts to help meet the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, WHO is developing global health sector strategies to address HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, and sexually transmitted infections. These three strategies – covering 2016 to 2021 – will be finalized for consideration during this year’s Assembly.


Also on the agenda will be the complex issues of antibiotic resistance – and WHO’s global action plan – along with the management of disease outbreaks such as the Zika virus. Global vaccination initiatives and the worldwide shortage of medicines will also be discussed.


The 2016 Assembly is expected to build on the work of the 2015 Assembly, which agreed a 5-point plan to address antimicrobial resistance. It also passed a resolution to strengthen efforts to meet 2020 vaccination targets, and supported a key proposal to tackle issues relating to nutrition.


Day 1

Recent progress in global public health were celebrated but major health issues still need to be settled, like health emergency management or antimicrobial resistance.


Recent outbreaks, like Ebola, Zika and urban yellow fever, signaled a “dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases” warned Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, during her opening speech. To tackle these health emergencies, it is essential that all the governments work together, side by side, with WHO, to improve health emergency management.



Antibiotic resistance, and more generally antimicrobial resistance, is a real public health issue: it threatens the effective prevention and treatment of a wide range of infectious diseases.  This threat is present in all parts of the world and requires worldwide actions across all government sectors and society.




Day 2

The spread of infectious diseases is a major issue for health actors nowadays, and this threat is deeply linked to climate change.


One of the most urgent aspects of climate change is its impact on health: it increases the risk of food insecurity, air pollution and, above all, the spread of infectious diseases. The Assembly congratulated the world’s heads of states for reaching last years’ Paris Agreement on climate change, but deplored that only 15% on them have drawn up plans for climate change that refer to health. Much still needs to be done.  




Climate change affects directly infectious disease occurrence: vector-borne and water-borne diseases that used to concerned only tropical, warm and humid regions, are now spreading in more temperate climes due to the rising temperatures. Infectious diseases like chikungunya, dengue, or malaria can now be found in Western Europe.  




To know more about the major issues tackled during the 69th World Health Assembly, like antimicrobial resistance, #AskWHO on Twitter.





Day 3

WHO’s new Health Emergencies Programme, one of the most profound transformations in the Organization’s history.


On this third day of the 69th World Health Assembly, the WHO Member States established a new Health Emergencies Programme, which is one of the most profound transformations in the Organization’s history. Designed to deliver rapid, predictable and comprehensive support to countries and communities facing health emergencies, this new programme will give to WHO a leadership within the context of the International Health Regulations and health, in relation to the broader humanitarian and disaster-management system. The delegates agreed a budget of US$494 million for the Programme for 2016-2017, which is an increase of US$160 million to the existing Programme Budget for WHO’s work in emergencies.




In 2015, WHO responded to major health emergencies in 47 countries, including 32 acute emergencies and 19 protracted emergencies. According to WHO’s Emergency Response Framework, the Organization responded, among others, to the earthquake in Nepal, the Ebola virus diseases outbreak in West Africa and the multiple humanitarian crisis in Iraq, Central African Republic and Syrian Arab Republic. The new program, agreed by WHO Member States yesterday, will enable the Organization to continue its work and improve its reactivity to support countries and communities as they prepare for, face or recover from emergencies caused by any type of hazard to human health, whether disease outbreaks, natural or man-made disasters or conflicts.    





Day 4

Towards a world in which everyone can live longer & healthier.


During the fourth day of the 69th World Health Assembly, delegates agreed to implement 2 new health strategies that are closely aligned with the sustainable Development Goals: the first one relates on women’s children’s and adolescent’s health. Each year, millions of women and children die from preventable causes, like malnutrition, complication in childbirth or more globally lack of healthcare. To ensure every woman, child and adolescent is able to survive and thrive by 2030, delegates committed to take forward the implementation of Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health (2016-2030), which will place a strong emphasis on country leadership. They underscore the importance of strengthening health systems and building partnerships with a wide range of actors across different sectors.            





To know more about how women and children are particularly affected by health urgency, such as Ebola and Zika, #AskWHO.




The second new health strategy approved yesterday is a resolution on the Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health (2016-2020). The proportion of the world’s population aged 60 years or over is predicted to double between 2000 and 2050, rising 22%. Even if older people today are experiencing better health than their parents did at the same age, good health in older age is unequally distributed within and between countries. On the base that longer lives are not necessarily healthier lives, this global strategy calls for the development of age-friendly environments and the alignment of health system to the needs of older populations. It also emphasize equity and human rights, including the important role of involving older adults in all decisions that concern them.




Days 5 & 6

The 69th World Health Assembly closes after approving important new resolution on WHO’s Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors.


After 6 days, during which 76 agenda items were addressed, the 69th World Health Assembly closed on May 28. During the last days, the delegates have agreed on resolutions and decisions regarding air pollution, childhood obesity and nutrition, non-communicable diseases and tobacco control, sexually transmitted infections, and access to medicines and vaccines. New resolutions about the Sustainable Development Goals and WHO’s Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors were approved as well/during the course of these discussions. The WHO Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA) were adopted after more than two years of intergovernmental negotiations. This major step in WHO’s governance reform aims to strengthen the Organization commitment with all stakeholders while protecting its work from conflict of interest and undue influence from external actors. This method is based on a standardized process of due diligence and risk assessment.     



In her closing remarks, Dr Margaret Chan highlighted some of the main achievements of the Health Assembly, including approval of the new program for health emergencies and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. She also paid tribute to the delegates’ strong commitment to universal coverage, “one [of the targets under the new agenda] that most decisively leaves no one behind”. Finally, WHO Director-General thanked all the interested parties for their “well-placed” confidence in the leadership of the WHO.



Photo credit : WHO

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