Your Guide to the 71st World Health Assembly: Setting the Table for Global Health

This blog was originally posted on the Rabin Martin website. It was written by Tina Flores, VP, External Engagement, Rabin Martin and GHC’s 2018 Advisory Council member. Rabin Martin is a strategy consulting firm that helps clients be leaders in improving health and access to global health technologies and is a 2018 Global Health Council member.

Image courtesy: Rabin Martin

On 21-26 May 2018, Ministers of Heath and other leading global health policy makers will gather in Geneva, Switzerland for the 71st session of the World Health Assembly (WHA). This annual meeting brings together high-level health representatives to discuss pressing challenges in public health. It is an important week for many in the global health policy community because it provides opportunities to strengthen relationships with key stakeholders, generate momentum on issues and contribute to the dialogue around policies that influence political will and resources at the global, national and local levels.

In addition to the formal agenda, stakeholders from across industries host events alongside the Assembly committee and plenary meetings to advance their initiatives and build constituencies around various global health issues. Trying to figure out which sessions to attend or secure an invite? Check out our guide to key events here. To include your event in the calendar, please contact

What is on the agenda?

The big themes for this WHA are universal health coverage (UHC), global health security and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). However, the most contentious issues are likely to include how access to medicines and vaccines, as well as intellectual property, are translated within the UHC framework.

The first under Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ leadership, this WHA will review the Draft Thirteenth General Programme of Work, 2019–2023: “Promote health, keep the world safe, serve the vulnerable” (GPW13). Using Sustainable Development Goal 3 as a starting point and UHC as its compass, the document provides a strategic roadmap for how the WHO will deliver on the health targets.

But the WHO recognizes that it cannot achieve its goals without partnerships with Non-State Actors such as NGOs, civil society, foundations and the private sector. The private sector is highlighted as a potential collaborator in the areas of UHC, integrated health service delivery, innovation, health diplomacy, investments, and, to a certain degree, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). This is notable because the private sector is not specifically mentioned in the previous WHO strategy. While there is still uncertainty about how the Framework for the Engagement of Non-State Actors (FENSA) will be implemented, there are positive signs that point toward more productive working relationships between the private sector and WHO on areas of common interest.

In contrast, the U.S. Government has been a strong supporter of greater private sector engagement in global health. Last year, for example, Dr. David Barash, Chief Medical Officer of the GE Foundation, was included in the U.S. delegation as Co-Chair of the Global Health Security Agenda Private Sector Roundtable (PSRT).

In addition to the formal proceedings, there are also technical briefings and official side events hosted by countries and their partners. This year, official side events held inside the Palais des Nations will focus on how to meet the challenges of translating UHC policies into practical reality. Side events by companies and civil society are captured in Rabin Martin’s Annual WHA Calendar.

Conversations we are looking forward to:

 Rabin Martin will be hosting a series of intimate roundtables with global health leaders on the topics such as NCDs, multilateral engagement, global health advocacy and private sector partnerships.

• Global health security: The PSRT (for which Rabin Martin serves as the Secretariat), PATH, Resolve to Save Lives and the World Bank are hosting Accelerating Progress: Planning, Prioritization, and Partnerships to Advance Global Health Security. The discussion will highlight what partners from the multilateral, public and private sectors can do to support countries in addressing gaps in health security.

• UHC: Rabin Martin is co-hosting its annual event on the issue with the Global Health Centre of the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. This event will focus on innovation, equity and the new health economy and on the private sector’s role in helping countries to achieve UHC.

 In the lead up to the UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs in September, the NCD Alliance is hosting a number of events throughout the week. In addition, there are a number of private sector-hosted events throughout the week, including: Driving Novel Partnerships Throughout the NCD Life-Cycle: New Approaches to Preventing and Treating Respiratory and Cardiovascular Diseases in LMICs hosted by AstraZeneca and Collaborative Solutions to Patient Challenges in NCDs, hosted by Access Accelerated.

We look forward to seeing you in Geneva!