Reflections from the 72nd World Health Assembly
The people of the world are looking at us to deliver results. And the people of the world will hold us accountable for these results. – Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
Last month, alongside our Senior Vice President in Global Child Health & Life Support, Janna Patterson, MD, MPH, FAAP, I attended my first World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva. It was my first time observing and participating in discussions that ultimately shape World Health Organization (WHO) policy. Are we on track to eradicate polio? How will we address the global shortage of and access to medicines and vaccines? What must be done to protect the health of refugees and migrants? How can we assure that health coverage is universal? WHA is the stage to debate these critical issues affecting among others, the world’s children, adolescents, and young people.
In my time at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), I have spent countless hours in Washington, DC advocating, speaking and listening to elected leaders and government officials. Together with AAP members, we have made the case for the unique needs of all children and youth. In many ways, advocacy at WHA felt very much like work we do every day in the United States, but there are key, complex differences. In addition to our government, each Member State makes its appeal based on how the extensive WHA agenda impacts their citizens. Discussions run long, politics interfere too often, and much like with our government, we worry that we are not seeing enough progress fast enough.
But then, like what you see in DC, we work alongside civil society advocates speaking up for children and families, the health care system, and equity. We stood with the International Pediatric Association and its president, Dr. Errol Alden, NCD Child (chaired by Dr. Mychelle Farmer), and many other groups with children as their primary focus. The Academy, as a member of the Global Health Council (GHC), led the development and supported six statements in response to the WHA agenda. This was our opportunity to try to influence the debates and to ensure the unique needs of children and youth were considered across the agenda.
- Primary health care towards universal health coverage
- Polio transition – GHC was the only civil society organization to make a statement on polio transition
- Health, environment and climate change
- Access to medicines and vaccines
- Promoting the health of refugees and migrants
- Strengthening synergies between the World Health Assembly and the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
Like advocacy in the US, there were moments of true inspiration and hope. I was especially awestruck by the many young people who travelled from all over the world to Geneva to tell their story, speak truth, and demand change. Where government officials and advocates can see overwhelming complexity and challenges, the young people articulated a clear vision of the future where they are prioritized, and resources are sufficient to meet their needs across the life course.
There was also a powerful group of government officials from the US and elsewhere who don’t need convincing about the needs of children. US DHHS Secretary Alex Azar, Assistant Secretary for Health ADM Dr. Brett Giroir, CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield, and many other officials attended WHA to lead conversations on infectious diseases, sickle cell disease, non-communicable diseases, and other topics directly affecting children and families. The AAP creates an important link between children and families, pediatricians, and government.
At the AAP, we proudly say that the organization is dedicated to the health of all children. Our mission calls on us to advocate for children wherever they are and in whatever communities they live and grow. I have always been impressed by the power of the pediatrician voice. Even if we know that advocacy is a marathon not a sprint, the AAP has a unique and important role to play at WHA and in many countries outside the US. It can be challenging to keep up the momentum but backed by the expertise and passion of our members, the skills and expertise of our staff, and the urgency of our mission, I know we can make progress together.
This post was written by Mark Del Monte, JD, CEO/Executive Vice President (Interim), Senior Vice President, Advocacy and External Affairs, American Academy of Pediatrics. The mission of the American Academy of Pediatrics is to attain optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents and young adults. To accomplish this, AAP shall support the professional needs of its members.