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World Health Assembly concludes: adopts key resolutions affecting global public health

WHA 58 DG Lee closing day
WHO Director-General Dr LEE Jong-wook addressing the Assembly.

The World Health Assembly, the supreme decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), wrapped-up its fifty-eighth session today. More than 2200 people from WHO's 192 Member States, nongovernmental organizations and other observers attended the meeting which took place between 16-25 May.

Ms Elena Salgado, the Minister of Health and Consumer Affairs of Spain was elected as the President of this Assembly. WHO Director-General Dr LEE Jong-wook encouraged delegates to determine the best ways to bring available health solutions to everyone who needs them. Invited speakers included the President of the Republic of Maldives His Excellency Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who spoke of the recent devastation caused by the tsunami and the continuing efforts to reconstruct homes, communities and lives. Bill Gates, the Co-Founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also addressed the Assembly on its first day, underlining his hope for the future, which he said rests on the "astonishing miracles" of science and technology. Ms Ann Veneman, the Executive Director of UNICEF stressed the importance of child survival in a world where almost 11 million children die before their fifth birthday. A quartet from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra spoke with music, and played in the opening ceremony before being appointed as WHO Goodwill Ambassador.

Highlights of the Assembly included the adoption of the revised International Health Regulations, which govern national and international response to disease outbreaks, the approval of the Proposed Programme Budget for 2006-2007, which includes a 4% increase in the Regular Budget and the establishment of World Blood Donor Day as an official annual event to be celebrated every 14 June.

This news release summarizes decisions taken at the 58th World Health Assembly. Please note that full texts of all documents including resolutions are available on the WHA documentation web site.

The Assembly reviewed progress made so far in polio eradication and identified what needs to be done to interrupt the final chains of wild-type poliovirus transmission worldwide by the end of this year. The Assembly also noted the progress made in scaling-up treatment and care within a coordinated and comprehensive response to HIV/AIDS and discussed smallpox vaccine reserves and research on the smallpox virus.

Recognizing that too many people suffer and die in crises and disasters as a result of untreated and often preventable health problems, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution on health action in crises and disasters, with particular emphasis on the earthquakes and tsunamis of 26 December 2004. The resolution calls on WHO to provide early warning of disease outbreaks, improve access to clean water and sanitation, and increase the availability of health care for people's physical and mental health. It also urges Member States to formulate disaster preparedness plans and pay more attention to gender-based violence as an increasing concern during crises.

The Assembly also underlined the importance of influenza pandemic preparedness and response by adopting a resolution calling on all Member States to develop and implement national plans for pandemic-influenza preparedness and response that focus on limiting the health impact and economic and social disruption. The resolution also calls on the WHO Director-General to seek a solution to the current global shortage of influenza vaccines. In a related resolution, Member States noted that the containment of microbiological agents and toxins in laboratories is critical to preventing outbreaks of diseases such as SARS, and adopted a resolution to enhance laboratory safety.

To address the more than one million preventable deaths caused by malaria each year, the Assembly adopted a resolution calling for stepped up efforts to fight the disease. It calls on WHO to intensify its collaboration with Member States to reach internationally agreed malaria control goals, including the possibility of WHO undertaking bulk purchases of insecticide-treated nets and antimalarial medicines. The Assembly also addressed the increasing number of cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, and worsening morbidity and mortality among HIV-positive tuberculosis patients, by adopting a resolution on sustaining financing for tuberculosis prevention and control. The resolution calls on Member States to set up collaboration between TB and HIV programmes and to integrate the prevention and control of TB in the mainstream of their health development plans.

The World Health Assembly adopted a resolution welcoming an ambitious new Global Immunization Vision and Strategy, which provides a framework for planning and implementing national immunization programmes during 2006-2015. The aims included in the Strategy are to achieve greater vaccination coverage and equity in access to immunization, and to include other interventions, including insecticide-treated nets and vitamin A supplements when people are immunized.

In response to the rising levels of cancer worldwide, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution to promote cancer prevention and control strategies for all Member States. While many countries have or are developing cancer control programmes there remains a significant gap between existing knowledge and current practices, especially in many developing countries. The resolution calls for improved cancer prevention measures, better early detection and treatment, and increased palliative care. WHO will develop a cancer prevention and control strategy which will help countries address this growing health crisis, and represents an important new initiative for WHO.

The Assembly adopted a resolution on "Accelerating the achievement of the internationally-agreed health-related goals including those contained in the Millennium Declaration", urging developed countries to make efforts to scale-up official development aid to 0.7% of gross national product and African countries to fulfil their commitment made at the African Summit in Abuja in 2001 to allocate 15% of their national budgets to health. The resolution also identified specific issues for immediate action: the crisis in human resources for health and ensuring better health of the poorest people in countries, particularly those emerging from conflict and crisis. In a separate resolution, the Assembly stressed the importance of promoting the health of women, newborns and children, in meeting the development goals contained in the Millennium Declaration. The resolution urges Member States to commit resources and to accelerate national action towards universal access and coverage with maternal, newborn and child health interventions, through reproductive health care.

Infant and young child nutrition was also discussed, and the Assembly adopted a resolution calling on Member States to continue to protect, promote and support exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life as a global public health recommendation. Member States are also urged to inform health care workers, parents and other caregivers on the best practices for preparation, use and handling of powdered infant formula in order to minimize health hazards and that powdered infant formula may contain pathogenic microorganisms and must be prepared and used appropriately.

The Assembly also addressed the issue of international migration of health personnel, particularly highly trained and skilled health personnel moving from developing to developed countries. A resolution was adopted, requesting the WHO Director-General to strengthen WHO's programme on human resources for health. The issue of development of human resources for health will be the theme of the 2006 World Health Report and World Health Day 2006. It will also be a key area of work in WHO’s General Programme of Work 2006-2015.

More than 1000 million people will be over 60 years old by 2025, the vast majority in the developing world, and this figure is expected to double by 2050. The World Health Assembly reviewed the progress made regarding implementation of WHO's policy framework on ageing and also adopted a resolution on strengthening and promoting active and healthy ageing. The resolution calls on the newly formed Commission on Social Determinants of Health to consider issues related to active and healthy ageing among its policy recommendations. The Assembly also approved a resolution on disability aimed at substantially improve the lives of some 600 million people living with disabilities. The resolution calls upon Member States to promote the rights and dignity of people with disabilities; support community-based rehabilitation; and include a disability component in national health policies and programmes. WHO will support Member States in these efforts and will collect more reliable data on all relevant aspects of disability as well as support research on the most effective responses.

The World Health Assembly has taken note that iodine deficiency disorder (IDD) is a leading cause of brain damage in childhood, and is calling for renewed efforts to eradicate the problem in the Member States with a high incidence of iodine deficiency. A lack of iodine intake during pregnancy and early childhood results in impaired cognitive and motor development in young children. WHO estimates 2 billion people are at risk of becoming iodine deficient. The solution to IDD is simple and cost-effective as iodine can easily be added to table salt. A resolution has been accepted which urges a renewed cooperative effort to eliminate IDD.

Recognizing the increasing threat posed by antimicrobial resistance, the Assembly adopted a resolution to improve its containment, particularly through the rational use of medicines. Resistance is increasing faster than the development of new drugs and current effective medicines for infections cannot keep pace. The resolution calls on Member States to develop a coherent, comprehensive and integrated approach to contain resistance, to encourage the appropriate use of antimicrobial agents, and monitor the use of these agents and the level of resistance occurring. It also urges WHO to strengthen its leadership role in containing resistance, to establish surveillance and patient education systems, and to collaborate with relevant programmes and partners to promote the rational use of medicines.

The Assembly has adopted a resolution calling on WHO to examine public health problems caused by the harmful use of alcohol. Changing global drinking patterns, rising rates of consumption, and drinking to excess particularly among young people are some of the factors which contribute to the harmful use of alcohol becoming one of the leading risks to health. It now results in 4% of the global burden of disease as a causal factor in more than 60 diseases, including cardiovascular disease, mental disorders, road traffic injuries and death, and high-risk behaviours. In consultation with a range of stakeholders, WHO will conduct assessments of these public health problems and develop effective policies, strategies and interventions to assist Member States to address and reduce them.

The World Health Assembly expressed concern at the deterioration of the economic and health conditions as well as the humanitarian crises resulting in the occupied Palestinian territory. The Assembly adopted a resolution on this subject.

Noting that health-financing systems in many countries need to be further developed in order to guarantee access to necessary services while providing protection against financial risk, the Assembly adopted a resolution on sustainable health financing and universal coverage and social health insurance and urged the Director-General to provide support to Member States to evaluate the impact of changes in health-financing systems on health services as they move towards universal coverage.

Noting the potential impact of advances in information and communication technologies, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution encouraging more work on eHealth. eHealth is the cost-effective and secure use of information and communication technologies in support of health and health-related fields, including health-care services, health surveillance, health literature, and health education. The resolution urges Member States to endeavour to reach communities, including vulnerable groups, with eHealth services, and requests the WHO Director-General to continue the expansion of mechanisms such as the Health Academy, which promote health awareness and healthy lifestyles through eLearning.

Recognizing that high-quality research, and the generation and application of knowledge are critical for improving the performance of health systems and attaining equity in health, the Assembly adopted a resolution acknowledging the Mexico Statement on Health research resulting from the Ministerial Summit on Health Research.

The Assembly also discussed the United Nations reform process and WHO's role in harmonization of operational development activities at country level and agreed on a resolution calling on the WHO Director-General to ensure that WHO continues to implement country-level activities in accordance with Member States' priorities, and to coordinate the activities of WHO with those of other organizations of the UN system and with relevant actors working to improve health outcomes.

The President of the World Health Assembly was Ms Elena Salgado of Spain. There were five Vice-Presidents: Mr Saley Key of Eritrea, Dr M. Fikri of the United Arab Emirates, Dr Annette King of New Zealand, Professor Suchai Charoenratanakul of Thailand and Dr Miguel Fernández Galeano of Uruguay. The Chairman of Committee A was Dr Bijan Sadrizadeh of Iran and the Chairman of Committee B was Dr Jerome Walcott of Barbados.

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Ms Christine McNab
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Director-General’s Office - WHO
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Mr Iain Simpson
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Dr Fadéla Chaib
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WHO/Geneva
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