In Focus: All Eyes on the World Health Assembly

May 28, 2021

A brief recap of WHA74’s first few days
By Kiki Kalkstein & Ansley Kahn, GHC

The 74th World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s decision-making body, began on Monday, May 24, 2021 and will run through Tuesday, June 1, 2021. It is the second assembly to be held virtually for nearly all participating Member States and Non-state actors. The GHC team, alongside our diverse delegation of more than 100 members from 11 countries, including 7 low- and middle-income countries, has been closely tracking the proceedings. Consider this a little teaser for what will be a very long recap from us after the assembly wraps up it’s business next week.

The agenda for WHA74 is expansive with many referring to this assembly as the most consequential in WHO’s history. In his opening remarks, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros noted the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine crisis is a “scandalous inequity that is perpetuating the pandemic.” In addition to addressing various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic like vaccine equity, the agenda encompasses 70+ items, including global health security and pandemic preparedness (and a proposed pandemic treaty); WHO reform and transformation; strengthening the health workforce; and much more! 

Notably, after the Biden Administration reversed former President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the WHO, the U.S. delegation has had a visible presence throughout the proceedings, including high-level opening remarks from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

With COVID-19 at the forefront of so many international discussions over the last year, there was great anticipation surrounding the release of “the 3 reports” from the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee, and the International Health Regulations Review Committee, which reviewed WHO’s role in health emergencies, the WHO Health Emergencies Program, and the functioning of the International Health Regulations during COVID-19, respectively. Discussions on these topics took place over several days and official action is still outstanding. 

One of the most highly anticipated topics was the proposed international pandemic treaty aimed at strengthening global cooperation for pandemic preparedness and response. Fifty-nine Member States signed a joint statement in support of a special session of the World Health Assembly in November to formally discuss the treaty. 

Agenda item 15, covering the health workforce, was another highly anticipated topic of discussion in light of the pandemic and 2021 as the Year of the Health and Care Worker. There were two resolutions under this topic, one on protecting, safeguarding & investing in health & care workers, led by Ethiopia and Senegal, and another on improving nursing & midwifery, led by Jamaica. Both were adopted unanimously. 

The GHC delegation submitted statements on a variety of agenda items, and thus far has had the chance to read a few on the (virtual) floor: 

  • Constituency Statement on Agenda Items 17 & 18: COVID-19 and WHO’s role in health emergencies
  • Agenda Items 13.1, 13.5, & 13.8: Global action on patient safety, Antimicrobial resistance, and Immunization Agenda 2030
  • Agenda Items 14, 15, & 16: Health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and health workforce, and the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s, and Adolescents’ Health
  • Agenda Items 26.2 & 26.3: WHO Transformation and WHO Reform, including engagement with non-state actors

Keep an eye out for more statements from us in the coming days on: 

  • Agenda Items: 13.4, 13.6, & 13.7: Global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation, and intellectual property; substandard and falsified medical products; and standardization of medical devices nomenclature
  • Agenda Items 19, 20, 21: The public health implications of implementation of the Nagoya Protocol, enhancement of laboratory biosafety, and poliomyelitis
  • Agenda Items 22.1 & 23: Social determinants of health and WHO global plan of action to strengthen the role of the health system within a national multisectoral response to address interpersonal violence, in particular against women and girls, and against children

You can read additional statements from our delegation on:

  • Agenda Items 13.2, 13.3, 13.9: Political declaration of the third high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases; Expanding access to effective treatments for cancer and rare and orphan diseases; and integrated people-centered eye care
  • Agenda Item 34.1: Progress reports on Water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities and Sustainable health financing structures and universal coverage

It’s been a long week for the global health community and there is still lots more work to be done in the final days of WHA74. The GHC team is here to help distill the proceedings and is providing daily updates to all interested GHC members. Please stay tuned for an in-depth analysis of all things WHA74 in the coming weeks. In the last days of #WHA74, we encourage you to engage in the discussions using GHC’s social media toolkit. Other helpful resources include a link to all official WHA74 documents and a link to the livestream to watch the proceedings or catch up on sessions you’ve missed. GHC and its members are committed to continuing to work toward health for all.