Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland once again witnessed the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s annual event - the 70th World Health Assembly.

From 22 to 31 May, WHO Member States’ delegates had assembled to review specific health agenda as prepared by the Executive Board. Among those discussed including to determine the policies of the Organisation, supervise financial policies, as well as review and approve the proposed programme budget.

The Assembly also saw the new WHO Director-General being elected, succeeding China’s Margaret Chan. Former Ethiopian health minister, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will begin his five-year term on 1 July 2017.

Here are the five key highlights observed at the 70th World Health Assembly:

1. New organisational reforms for WHO’s African region

Dr Matsidisho Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa announced that new flagship programmes will be rolled out in the region to focus on adolescent health and setting up of emergency hubs.

As such, WHO country offices in the African region will also be the focal point of accountability and be responsible for the mandatory set of performance deliverables that will be carried out in the next two years. This is due to the success of the Transformation Agenda in relations to the Ebola crisis in West Africa and quick response to the 2016 polio outbreak in Nigeria.

The New Adolescent Health Flagship Programme for Africa to be introduced will target the 23% of Africa’s adolescent population that require specific healthcare needs such as HIV intervention. Initiatives supported by WHO under the programme will include wider coverage of immunisations, tackling substance abuse, treating mental health, offering reproductive and sexual health services, and preventing accidents and injuries.

New sub-regional emergency hubs will be established and will address the 100 public health emergencies that crop up every year in the African region. The hubs are closer to the emergencies, and emergency health staff will be able to provide quicker and efficient responses.

2. Global compact for progress towards universal health coverage

The global compact signed at the Assembly will commit advancement of the UHC2030 – a movement launched a year ago – for universal health coverage, and to uphold the key principle of health coverage for all at all ages so that “nobody is left behind.”

Strengthening commitments between all parties and addressing the most vulnerable and marginalised population groups will first be prioritised. Additionally, the commitment to UHC2030 will also involve building and expanding health systems, which will be funded primarily by public finance.

3. Immunisation

Every year, vaccinations are able to avert about two to three million deaths caused by diphteria, tetanus, pertussis and measles. Should the vaccination coverage be improved, around 1.5 million deaths could also be saved.

Through this awakening, the delegates of the Assembly have agreed to improve and strengthen the objectives of the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), which aims to vaccinate everyone globally with the vital immunisations by 2020.

However, the progress of GVAP is not quite reaching the target. To date, more than 19 million children are still not on track with their basic immunisations; a number that is unrealistic to address by 2020. Therefore, Member States are required to strengthen and progress national immunisation programmes.

Such programmes will also need to be expanded beyond its normal scope of vaccinating at infancy and supported financially while maintaining international ties to achieve the GVAP goals. Progress on the GVAP 2020 goals will be reported by the Secretariat in the years 2020 and 2022.

4. Dementia

With roughly 47 million people suffering from dementia globally and close to 10 million new diagnoses yearly, the Assembly witnessed a commitment by the Member States to address dementia through a global action plan.

The action plan, which takes effect from now through to 2025, will be a series of national strategies to improve the lives of people with dementia, the families and the carers as well as reduce the impact of the disease on the countries and communities.

It will aim to improve diagnosis, treatment, research and technology, all of which are measures to reduce the risk of dementia and will be supported by the WHO Secretariat through technical support, tools and guidance to Member States.

Progress on the plan will be monitored both nationally and internationally by the WHO Global Dementia Observatory.

5. Polio

In 1988, Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was launched with the sole goal of eradicating polio worldwide, followed by the initiation of a strategic plan to end polio by 2018.

As GPEI comes to a close, the biggest challenge currently is to ensure complete eradication of polio and to plan for a transition away from programmes focused on the disease.

WHO recognises the implications of GPEI winding down and eventually ending, such as finances and staffing risks. Vaccination efforts could also suffer from setbacks due to GPEI being closely related to measles, pertussis, diphteria and tetanus vaccination programmes. The African region could be especially affected, as efforts are concentrated there and majority of funding originates from GPEI.

As a result, the Assembly has given rise to a polio transition planning document, outlining some of the risks of GPEI’s anticipated decline. WHO is working on all commitment levels to prevent the threats of a mismanaged transition.

Dr Margaret Chan, in her outgoing speech as Director-General said with regards to polio, “… the world has never been so close. We must keep up our efforts to make eradication a reality.” MIMS

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