9 Things to Watch at This Week’s World Health Assembly

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GENEVA – More than 3,500 people from 194 member-states are attending this week’s World Health Assembly—the “biggest ever” according to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

The Assembly, which sets the policies for WHO, will take on 76 agenda items (with 1,200 pages of supporting documents) and consider 21 resolutions, Chan said in a press briefing last week.

Here’s 9 of the many things to watch at #WHA69:

WHO reform – While WHO plugs away at reforming its bureaucracy, it remains to be seen whether delegates will deal with one of the main problems for WHO: an insufficient, donor-driven budget. As large donors are intent on funding specific activities, the result is “gross misalignments between priorities identified in the Assembly and expenditures underwritten by donors,” according to WHO Watch from the People’s Health Movement.

Health Emergencies – Still smarting from the universally panned Ebola response, WHO is proposing a stepped up response to health emergencies that goes beyond dispensing technical advice to coordinating emergency responses from the UN, the humanitarian sector and others—but not becoming an “implementing organization” like MSF, according to Chan. WHO has proposed $160 million in additional funds to support this.

Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA) – A key issue to be discussed at WHA is how WHO should engage with non-state actors such as NGOs, academic institutions, philanthropies and corporations and other business interests. Some countries have deep suspicions about WHO partnering with businesses, while others like the US and some European countries view this as essential.

Sustainable Development – The September 2015 adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 included important targets and implications for health. WHA will discuss the SDGs with a focus on universal health coverage, equity and “intersectoral action.”

Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance – The alarming surge in antimicrobial resistance and the paucity of new antimicrobials in development has become an issue of global concern. This WHA will consider options for a global development and stewardship framework.

Shortage of Medicines – The development of new drugs (especially for developing countries) is a major issue. Organizations like the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative and PHM support “delinking” the cost of developing new drugs from the cost of the drugs and sales volume.

Migration and health – The current migrant and refugee crisis has captured global attention and demands urgent, coordinated response. WHA will consider means of ensuring migrants’
right to health, delivering universal health coverage and providing access to quality health care services.

Mycetoma – The WHA will consider a resolution by Sudan to add the flesh- and bone-destroying disease to WHO’s list of neglected diseases—a key step toward securing badly needed research funds. Journalist Amy Maxmen documented mycetoma’s devastating effects in Sudan in a special Global Health NOW series. She is reporting on the resolution’s progress this week in Geneva.

Next Director-General – Let the game begin. Candidates are lining up to replace Margaret Chan next year. The vote won’t take place until the next WHA, but, no doubt, candidates will talking up their expertise and meeting with health leaders this week. 3 of 6 WHO regions (including Africa) have never had a Director-General. Member states should take regions into consideration when developing the short list, Chan said at last week’s press conference.

— Brian W. Simpson, Global Health NOW editor-in-chief, is reporting from Geneva this week at the World Health Assembly. Visit this page for more GHN stories from the World Health Assembly.

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