World Health Assembly: bogged down by slow decisions

Crucial decisions, like those on curbing antimicrobial resistance and tackling air pollution and its health effects, are yet to be taken

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Monday 30 November -0001

Every year the World Health Assembly takes place in the Palais de Nations in Geneva. This photo is of the outside of the plenary hall of the Palais (Photo courtesy WHO)

The 68th World Health Assembly has been on for six days now, but the meeting, which is being attended by the 194 member nations of WHO, has yielded little when it comes to the most contentious issues. The issue of curbing antimicrobial resistance, which has become a global pandemic, is being discussed informally. The agenda items on air pollution and the framework for engagement with non-state actors are being discussed in drafting committees. The Global Vaccine Action Plan, too, is being discussed informally. Monday would be a busy day as WHA members rush to catch up with the developments.

Most delegates usually leave Geneva after the first few days, slimmer teams are left to finalise these decisions.

Some progress

What has been finalised so far is a new global malaria strategy for 2016-2030, which aims to reduce the global burden of the disease by 40 per cent by 2020, and by at least 90 per cent by 2030. It also aims to eliminate malaria in at least 35 new countries by 2030. In the case of polio, the delegates agreed to recommit to eradicating the disease. They also agreed to the phased withdrawal of oral polio vaccines.

For Ebola, WHO will set up a US$100-million contingency fund to provide financing for in-field operations for up to three months. The deadline to implement the International Health Regulations was extended to 2016. It has also been decided to make a change in the recommendation so that travellers to countries where yellow fever is endemic do not need to get booster shots for yellow fever as the vaccine provides lifelong immunity.

Changes to the International Health Regulations will come into force in June 2016. Delegates agreed to a resolution on strengthening emergency and essential surgical care and anaesthesia to reduce maternal mortality rates, complications in minor surgical issues and reduction in death or disability due to minor injuries. The review of mechanism to control spurious, substandard and counterfeit medicine has been postponed to 2017.

A lot more will have to be done on Monday to clear the agenda.

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