Response to Ebola, obesity high on the agenda

WHO will evaluate performance related to MDGs and set priorities for the coming year, including plans to fight antimicrobial resistance

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Monday 18 May 2015

Source: flickr

Each year, representatives of 194 member countries of the World Health Organization (WHO) gather at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva.

This year, from May 18 to 26, participants will discuss topics relevant to global health such as communicable and non-communicable diseases, nutrition and genetic diseases, reforms to funding and transition from millennium development goals (MDGs) to sustainable development goals (SDGs).

These topics are decided by the executive board of WHO based on the trend in health problems that plague the world (See “Priority list for the 68th World Health Assembly”).

The gathering determines the policies of WHO, supervises financial policies and approves the proposed programme budget. Last year, 20 resolutions were passed. But what comes out of a WHA is more or less unpredictable and health experts avidly follow the proceedings.

MDGs, Ebola on the agenda

This year’s assembly is crucial as it is the deadline for meeting the MDGs. All countries together have failed to meet targets globally and this meeting will discuss the shortfalls. The stage will also be set for the SDGs which will be implemented from next year.

WHO’s inability to address the spread of Ebola last year is likely to be at the forefront. The organisation admits that it was ill-prepared to handle the epidemic and lacked capacity. WHO indicated that as large chunks of the funds available to them are tied to specific programmes, they were unable to gather enough funds to deal with the epidemic.

WHO funds are largely provided by private funding agencies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Financing for situations like these has been part of talks on reforms since 2010.

The 68th assembly this year will consider a new draft policy on WHO’s engagement with non-state actors as part of their discussion on reforms. WHO accepts that the reform process needs to factor in such emergencies.

Obesity, antimicrobial resistance may see vigorous debate

Among other subjects that are likely to be debated at the meeting is the increasing incidence of non-communicable diseases. WHO’s efforts so far have attracted the wrath of public health experts.
For example, WHO set up a Commission for “Ending Childhood Obesity” which submitted its report earlier this year. Public health experts point out that the Commission failed to give due attention to poverty and failed to consider the role of trade agreements in affecting the price of food.

In its critique on the report, People’s Health Movement, a network of international health activists, pointed out that there is an “unseemly relationship between the Commission and the corporate sector”.
Similarly, on the issue of antimicrobial resistance, a draft copy of a global action plan on antimicrobial resistance was submitted recently to the WHO. In it, experts recommended that instead of an increased focus on antibiotic drugs, diagnostics and vaccines, there should be more emphasis on finding alternatives such as probiotics and developing healthy building design and reengineering medical instruments to improve infection control.

Priority list for the 68th World Health Assembly

  • WHO reform
  • Maternal, infant and young child nutrition
  • Ending childhood obesity—updates from the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity
  • Prevention and control of non-communicable diseases—comprehensive review and assessment of progress
  • Global burden of epilepsy—need for coordinated action at the country level to address its health, social and public knowledge implications
  • Adolescent health
  • Air pollution—addressing the health impact of air pollution
  • Antimicrobial resistance—draft global action plan on antimicrobial resistance to be discussed Poliomyelitis
  • WHO response in severe, large scale emergencies—options for a contingency fund to support WHO’s emergency response capacity will be discussed
  • 2014 Ebola virus disease outbreak
  • Pandemic influenza preparedness
  • Malaria—post-2015 draft global technical strategy
  • Dengue prevention and control
  • Global Vaccine Action Plan
  • Substandard/spurious/falsely labelled/falsified/counterfeit medical products
  • Health emergencies
  • Monitoring of the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals
  • Health in the post-2015 development agenda

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