At WHO Assembly, Nations Agree on Global Health Reforms

World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan attends Committee B of the 63rd World Health Assembly. Photo by: Jess Hoffman/WHO

The 63rd World Health Assembly ended May 21 with several resolutions to address global health issues, from avoiding medical brain drain to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

“You reached agreement on some very important items that are a real gift to public health, everywhere,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said Friday in Geneva before a crowd of health ministers and senior health officials of WHO member states.

The assembly yielded commitments from delegates to build up national health systems and incorporate the issue of health equity in national policies to ensure progress in attaining MDGs 4 and 5, on maternal health and HIV-AIDS. The event also saw the endorsement of a global code of practice designed to discourage states from “actively recruiting” medical workers from developing countries suffering acute shortage of these professionals, and a series of interim targets for 2015 that will serve as milestones toward the global eradication of measles.

The delegates also adopted resolutions on the importance of increasing access to safe blood transfusion and safe and available blood products in developing countries, stepping up efforts to address pneumonia, and preventing and managing birth defects, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

A resolution on infant and young child nutrition calls for increased political commitment, the execution of the global strategy on infant and young child feeding, the enhancement of nutritional surveillance systems, and better use of MDG indicators to track progress.

The assembly likewise featured a debate on how the WHO director-general should be elected. The discourse centered on the option to select the WHO chief either by merit exclusively or on rotation by region.

“My conviction is that the important decisions taken, by consensus between the Members States, reflect a common desire to come up with concrete results that could profit all humanity in exercising its right to health,” Tunisian Health Minister Mondher Zenaïdi, who also serves as president of the assembly, said in a WHO news release.

That press release did not mention about the three-year plan to eliminate polio approved by the delegates, which The Wall Street Journal reported May 22.

According to WSJ, the plan entails USD2.6 billion in funding for polio vaccination programs in polio hot spots including Nigeria and India. It is so far only halfway-funded as donor countries suffer budget constraints in the wake of the global downturn.

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.