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Sixty-ninth World Health Assembly opens in Geneva

News release

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan opened the Sixty-ninth World Health Assembly with words of celebration, warning, and hope.

Dr Chan celebrated recent progress in global public health, particularly in combatting HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and polio, as well as in improving maternal and child health.

But she warned that the recent outbreaks of Ebola, MERS coronavirus, Zika and urban yellow fever, signalled a “dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases”, observing that “the world is not prepared to cope.”

“Given what we face right now and the next surprises that are sure to come, the item on your agenda with the most sweeping consequences, for a danger that can quickly sweep around the world, is the one on the reform of WHO’s work in health emergency management.”

Dr Chan also highlighted the “slow motion” disasters of a changing climate, antimicrobial resistance and the rise of chronic noncommunicable diseases like cancer, heart and lung disease, and diabetes.

“Unchecked, these slow-motion disasters will eventually reach a tipping point where the harm done is irreversible.” The 2030 agenda for sustainable development, however, aims to avert such disasters, inspiring “optimism and hope”. Dr Chan emphasized that health plays a central role of health in the new agenda, and that universal health coverage will be key to achieving health-related targets.

“Universal health coverage is the target that underpins all others. It is the ultimate expression of fairness that leaves no one behind.”

New President of the Health Assembly

Earlier in the day, the Health Assembly elected Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Saidi, Minister of Health of Oman as its new President. Five vice-presidents were also appointed from Armenia, Chad, Malaysia, Panama and Timor-Leste.

Topics covered during the Health Assembly

Some 3500 delegates from WHO’s 194 Member States – including a large proportion of the world’s health ministers - are attending the Health Assembly, which ends on 28 May.

Today they embarked on a general plenary discussion about “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and began a discussion on WHO reform. Over the next days, delegates will discuss a wide range of agenda items.

These include decisions relating to WHO’s response to health emergencies and the International Health Regulations. They also include noncommunicable diseases and factors that can put people at risk of these diseases – or reduce their level of risk. Important decisions will be made relating to childhood obesity and maternal, child and young child nutrition, as well as air pollution, tobacco control, violence and road safety.

As part of the global drive to support and strengthen health systems, delegates will discuss resolutions relating to human resources for health; the global shortages of medicines; and “people-centred” health services.

They will also discuss implementation of the Global Strategy on Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health discussed1 at the 68th World Health Assembly, as well as a set of draft global health sector strategies for HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, with new targets that align with the SDG agenda.

Other health-related resolutions focus on a neglected tropical disease - mycetoma; the public health dimensions of the world drug problem; and healthy ageing.

Resolutions that are more operational in focus will include WHO’s engagement with non-State actors (including civil society organizations, economic and social partners, and private sector entities) and the report of the Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: financing and coordination.

A series of daily technical briefings will start tomorrow with a discussion about Health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: intersectoral action. Subsequent sessions will address implementation of the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, Health Emergencies in Practice and Migration and Health.

Notes to editors:

The World Health Assembly is attended by delegates from WHO Member States as well as representatives from many agencies, organizations, foundations and other groups that contribute to improving public health. Member States approve resolutions in committee before formally adopting them in the plenary session at the end of the Health Assembly.

For more information, please contact:

Gregory Härtl
WHO Department of Communications
Mobile: +41 79 203 67 15

Ms Fadéla Chaib
WHO Department of Communications
Mobile: +41 79 475 5556

Mr Tarik Jasarevic
WHO Department of Communications
Mobile: +41 79 367 6214

Mr Christian Lindmeier
WHO Department of Communications
Mobile: +41 79 500 6552

Ms Nyka Alexander
WHO Department of Communications
Mobile: +4179 634 0295

1 CORRIGENDUM (24 May 2016) When referring to the Global Strategy for Women's, Children's & Adolescents' Health - the strategy “was discussed” at the WHA assembly last year, rather than “was agreed”.