During an eight-day series of meetings that concluded on May 24, 2011, the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, passed 28 resolutions and adopted three decisions to guide the organization’s work and address global health issues. The sessions were held in Geneva during the annual meeting of the World Health Assembly. More than 2700 delegates attended, including government health ministers, senior health officials, nongovernment organizations, civil-society groups, and observers.
“I believe this has been an especially productive and profoundly effective Assembly,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in a May 24, 2011, WHO press statement. “These World Health Assemblies are having a tremendous impact on the health of this world.”
The policy work of the World Health Assembly included a presentation of outcomes from the independent Review Committee, which examined WHO's response to the influenza pandemic and the International Health Regulations. In its statement, WHO said, “After a year of investigation, the committee agreed that the International Health Regulations helped better prepare the world to cope with public health emergencies, but that the world is currently ill prepared to respond to a severe pandemic or to any other public health emergency on a similarly global and threatening scale.” In addition, the Review Committee declared that the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 was a real pandemic and found no evidence WHO was influenced by industry in its decision-making.
To improve global preparedness for future pandemics, delegates approved a framework for pandemic influenza preparedness that was the culmination of four years of negotiation between WHO's member states. According to WHO, the framework will improve influenza virus sharing and access to vaccines and other benefits. “Member States agreed [that] the framework lays the groundwork for better preparedness and better access to tools and knowledge. The next phase is to ensure the implementation of the agreement,” said WHO in its statement.
In other news, delegates endorsed the World Health Assembly resolution on the preparations for the United Nations (UN) General Assembly high-level meeting on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases, which will be held this September in New York. To support prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases as well as the health-related goals of the UN Millennium Development goals (MDGs), the delegates also approved five resolutions to strengthen health systems, including strategies to improve nursing and midwifery, actions to improve the health workforce through effective implementation of the WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel, and efforts to improve national policy dialogue to build robust health policies, strategies, and plans. Two other resolutions addressed building sustainable health-financing structures and the need to strengthen national health emergency and disaster-management capacities. In addition, the health-related MDGs received support with resolutions and reports on immunization strategy, infant and young child nutrition, child-injury prevention, youth-health risks, malaria, and the final report of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women's and Children's Health.
The World Health Assembly also adopted a new strategy to combat HIV, the Global Health Sector Strategy on HIV–AIDS, 2011-2015, which will guide actions by WHO and individual countries. Under the new strategy, WHO aims to promote greater innovation in HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care services so that countries can achieve the goal of universal access to HIV services.
The assembly also reaffirmed the decision of previous assemblies that the remaining stock of smallpox (variola) virus should be destroyed when “crucial” research based on the virus has been completed, according to WHO. The state of variola virus research will be reviewed at the 67th World Health Assembly in 2014, and a date for destroying the remaining virus stocks will be discussed.
Other resolutions focused on the eradication of guinea-worm disease and polio. With respect to polio, “delegates called for strong national and subnational leadership by political authorities for the implementation of polio eradication strategies and highlighted the need for countries to significantly strengthen routine immunization,” said WHO in its statement. “Delegates expressed particular concern over the funding gap of $665 million to fully carry out polio eradication activities in 2011 and 2012.” The assembly also discussed the need to revitalize the Global Task Force on Cholera Control and the need to scale up advocacy measures.
In the area of counterfeit medicines, the World Health Assembly also discussed the report from the working group of Member States on Substandard/Spurious/Falsely-Labeled/Falsified/Counterfeit Medical Products on improving access to quality and affordable medical products. The Assembly approved the decision to extend the working group to resume its work and report to the next World Health Assembly.