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61st World Health Assembly: daily notes on proceedings

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How the World Health Asembly works

President Ramasammy

WHO was established 60 years ago to promote health and ease the burden of disease worldwide. The Organization takes direction for its goals and priorities from the 193 Member States it is designed to serve. Each year, senior health officials from all these Member States come to Geneva to participate in the World Health Assembly. It is at the Health Assembly that WHO's work is reviewed, new goals are set, and new tasks assigned.

The 61st World Health Assembly this year has a long and complex list of health challenges and responses to review. In this section, we will bring daily notes on the major public health issues that are being debated during this year's session.

Setting the public health agenda

The World Health Organization implements its public health programmes through 147 country offices and six regional offices.

The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO, and is composed of delegates of all 193 Member States. It determines WHO's policies and reviews and approves the programme budget.

The Executive Board is composed of 34 technically qualified members elected for three-year terms. The Board advises the World Health Assembly and implements its decisions and policies.

Resolutions, adopted by each Health Assembly, direct WHO and urge Member States to take specific actions, gather more evidence and/or submit reports on their implementation. Member States may propose draft resolutions for consideration by the Health Assembly. In some cases, it can take years for debates to culminate in resolutions for the Health Assembly to consider.

In each case, the Member States discuss the draft resolution, assessing what it hopes to accomplish, and determining if it is in each country's interest to support the resolution or not. The Health Assembly aims to work on consensus and nearly all resolutions are adopted without a vote. When a vote is held, it is decided by majority.

The process at the annual World Health Assembly

At the Health Assembly two main types of meeting are held, each with a different purpose:

  • Committees meet to debate technical and health matters (Committee A), and financial and management issues (Committee B), and approve the texts of resolutions, which are then submitted to the plenary meeting.
  • Plenary is the meeting of all delegates to the World Health Assembly. The Health Assembly meets in plenary several times in order to listen to reports and adopt the resolutions transmitted by the committees. The Director-General and Member States also address the delegates at the plenary.

In addition, technical briefings are organized separately on specific public health topics to present new developments in the area, provide a forum for debate and to allow for information sharing.

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