The 67th World Health Assembly: Reflections from Dr. Christine Sow

Dr. Sow and Professor Francis Omaswa, of the African Center for Global Health and Transformation at Wednesday's Governance event

Dr. Sow and the Minister of Health for Uganda at Wednesday’s Governance event

By Dr. Christine Sow, Executive Director

Last week, GHC led a delegation of more than 70 members to the World Health Assembly (WHA) meetings in Geneva, Switzerland. As an official non-state actor affiliated with the World Health Organization, GHC once again made the most of the opportunity to provide its members with access to this critical venue. Our delegation profile was unique for a number of reasons: it included members from across multiple sectors of global health involvement (non-profit NGOs, R&D organizations, private international development partners, corporate representatives, and others engaged in global health); our delegation members represented a wide array of issues and interests that were being discussed during the WHA; and it provided a robust platform for civil society (CS) participation particularly from the US.

Our role as a civil society (CS) leader was quickly identified and optimized during the week – GHC was represented as the CS voice on many of the panels where we participated, even if our remit is much wider than that of CS representative. This was also an indication of how little CS is represented at the WHA; several of the many interesting conversations I had during the week focused on the involvement of civil society at WHA, its desirability vis a vis the other sectors represented, and the best way to ensure our complete and constructive participation. The importance of GHC’s active linking with other CS networks, alliances and coalitions was made clear throughout the week and is something that we will be actively pursuing over the coming months.

It was also interesting to be at WHA as the leader of a diverse issue-driven constituency, given that our mandate was to keep the vast notion of global health firmly on the agenda. This necessarily meant identifying and promoting cross-cutting themes to which GHC can contribute such as innovation and research, UHC, and global health financing. And in these particular cases, GHC’s contribution equated with better defining and highlighting the role of CS in shaping these agendas as they move forward.

Christine WHA Floor

Dr. Christine Sow reading a statement on nutrition interventions with child health programs on the floor of the Assembly.

At the same time it was heartening to be in the position to support individual delegates and their issues within the formal assembly. Specifically, GHC submitted and read for the record a statement on the importance of integrating nutrition interventions with child health programs, as well as a statement emphasizing the critical role played by maternal health within the newly adopted Every Newborn Action Plan. Finally, our multi-sectoral approach to membership meant that representatives from across the global health partner spectrum were able to attend the Assembly and fully contribute their perspectives and questions. The diversity of our delegation provided a conceptual snapshot of how the global health landscape is shifting – business as usual is no longer relevant; it is necessarily multi-sectoral, thematically cross cutting, and more complex given the growing numbers and types of players involved.

GHC and its membership are collectively tasked with moving the needle in the direction we see for the future of global health. This means supporting evidence-based policy change and the operational elements that will mean its success. The World Health Assembly is a unique venue providing a platform for multi-sectoral, multi-issue engagement; the strength and profile of GHC’s membership means that our role can only increase over time. Going forward, we will be sure to optimize the collective impact of our actions and voices.