The 62nd World Health Assembly, which brought together health ministers and senior health officials from WHO's Member States, closed today with the adoption of resolutions on a variety of global health issues including primary health care, the prevention and control of multidrug- resistant and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, public health, innovation and intellectual property and pandemic influenza preparedness. The Health Assembly also passed the Programme Budget for 2010 -2011.
WHO Member States had earlier agreed to shorten the Health Assembly from nine to five days in order to allow senior officials to return to their home countries to help oversee preparedness for a possible influenza pandemic.
The President of the 62nd World Health Assembly, Mr Nimal S. De Silva, Minister for Healthcare and Nutrition of Sri Lanka, noted that despite the fact that the session had been curtailed to five days, delegates could be proud of the fact that they had deliberated and agreed on pressing issues on the world health agenda. "The cooperation and flexibility that the delegations had shown in agreeing on contentious issues is commendable," he said.
In her remarks, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan referred to calls made during a high-level consultation on the new influenza A(H1N1) virus, to consider criteria other than geographical spread when evaluating the phases of influenza pandemic alert. She said, "The decision to declare an influenza pandemic is a responsibility that I take very, very seriously."
Dr Chan further stated that her decision would consider the scientific information available, and would be supported by advice from the Emergency Committee, a body of international experts established in compliance with the International Health Regulations.
The Director-General outlined what might be seen, based on current knowledge, as the virus continues to spread over the coming weeks and months.
She called for close monitoring of the virus as cases begin to appear in the southern hemisphere, where the new virus will have opportunities to mingle with other currently circulating influenza viruses as the winter seasonal influenza epidemics begin.
The Director-General noted that in cases where the H1N1 virus was widespread and circulating in the general community, countries must expect to see more cases of severe and fatal infections, even though a sudden and dramatic jump was not expected at present. She again reminded the international community of the particular vulnerability of populations in the developing world.
As she noted, detection of the virus and tracking of its spread require intensive laboratory testing, as the virus is not presently causing readily visible signals, such as large numbers of people needing medical care or entering hospitals. Laboratory testing, contact tracing, and investigation of cases are disruptive and resource-intensive measures, raising questions about sustainability. Referring to a dilemma, she noted that such efforts have already yielded important clues at the scientific, clinical, and epidemiological levels, though much remains to be learned.
The Health Assembly passed 15 resolutions. Among them are:
Prevention and control of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis
The resolution endorsed strict quality standards for the provision of anti-TB drugs and efforts to limit their misuse. They also agreed to strengthen measures to make access universal to M/XDR-TB diagnosis and quality treatment. Research for new TB diagnostics, medicines and vaccines is prioritized under the resolution through support for extra financing. At the same time, WHO will also work with Member States to develop national TB response plans that will prevent more people from getting drug-resistant tuberculosis, and diagnose and treat those that do.
Global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property
After intense debate, Member States adopted a final plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property which includes an agreed list of stakeholders who will be involved in the process, as well as a time frame and progress indicators by which to monitor progress. The plan of action aims, among other things, to foster innovation and improve access to medicines for diseases that disproportionately affect the poor.
Pandemic influenza preparedness: sharing of influenza viruses and access to vaccines and other benefits
A resolution requested the Director-General to take forward those parts of the pandemic preparedness framework on which agreement had been reached, and to facilitate a process to finalize the remaining elements, including Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) and report to the Executive Board at its 126th session in January 2010.
Prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment
A resolution was approved endorsing an action plan to expand efforts to eliminate avoidable blindness by strengthening national eye health programmes.
The plan contains actions for Member States, international partners and the WHO secretariat aimed at strengthening commitment at global and national levels to eliminate avoidable blindness. Actions are also aimed at strengthening national eye health policies and plans, increasing research to prevent blindness, improving coordination between partners and stakeholders to scale up efforts, and monitoring progress in elimination of avoidable blindness at national, regional and global levels.
Climate change and health
The resolution included a work plan to scale up WHO's technical assistance to countries to assess and address the implications of climate change for health and health systems.
The work plan has four objectives:
- advocacy and awareness raising;
- engagement in partnerships with other UN organizations and sectors other than the health sector at national, regional and international levels;
- promoting and supporting the generation of scientific evidence; and
- strengthening health systems to cope with the health threat posed by climate change, including emergencies related to extreme weather events and sea-level rise.
Other resolutions included: health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan; primary health care, including health system strengthening; traditional medicine; reducing health inequities through action on the social determinants of health; and the medium-term strategic plan 2008-2013.
The Health Assembly also heard progress reports on a variety of health issues such as polio eradication, where delegates expressed deep concern with continued polio transmission in endemic countries but re-iterated their firm commitment to the goal of global polio eradication.