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Highlights from WHA73: leaving no disease behind during the pandemic

The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO. It is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board. The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of the Organization, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget.

In May 2020, the opening session of the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA73) was hosted in a virtual format for the first time ever, and after addressing the topic of the COVID-19 pandemic was suspended until later in the year. The remaining WHA73 agenda items were discussed at the resumed session in November, which was also held virtually.

Several NCD-relevant agenda items for WHA73 have been concluded via silence procedure (meaning no objections to adoption received in writing from Missions in Geneva) between the two sessions of WHA73, chiefly over the summer. These items were therefore not discussed at the resumed WHA73 in November:

  • 11.3 Global vaccine action plan: Immunization Agenda 2030 – DG’s Report noted, decision WHA73(9) on strengthening global immunization efforts to leave no-one behind adopted.
  • 11.4 Global Strategy for the elimination of cervical cancer as a global public health problem – Resolution adopted.
  • 11.5 Ending tuberculosis – Resolution adopted.
  • 11.7 Integrated, people-centred eye care, including preventable blindness and impaired vision – Resolution adopted.
  • 11.9 Global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual Property – Decision WHA73(11) adopted.
  • 15.1 Decade of Healthy Ageing – Decision WHA(12) adopted.

The resumed session from 9-14 November was opened by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. In his welcoming speech, he called on Member States to “address the shocking and expanding imbalance between assessed contributions and voluntary, largely earmarked funds,” noting that WHO’s annual budget is equivalent to what the world spends on tobacco products in a single day.

Dr Tedros also addressed the recent optimistic announcements around a potential vaccine for COVID-19, warning that such a treatment was welcome but fundamentally “cannot address the global under-investment in essential public health functions and resilient health systems… there is no vaccine for poverty, hunger, climate change or inequality.”

The Assembly went on to discuss a wide range of issues relevant to the management of global public health. Of particular interest to the World Heart Federation and its Members was agenda item 11.2 (Follow-up to the high-level meetings of the United Nations General Assembly on health-related issues – Universal health coverage: moving together to build a healthier world and Political declaration of the third high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases). Together with our partners in the Global Coalition for Circulatory Health,  WHF submitted a joint official statement calling for Member States to:

  1. Recognize multi-morbidity and co-morbidity as a growing worldwide public health concern that may affect over 1.7 billion people living with life-threatening NCDs;
  2. Prioritize their inclusion between NCDs in the design and implementation of policies aiming at the prevention, early detection and treatment of all NCDs and their common risk factors via the delivery of health services that meet quality criteria; and
  3. Maximize common efforts to create and reinforce health systems that deliver affordable, people-centered, integrated, multi-sectoral and comprehensive NCD response to multiple morbidities, leaving no disease behind during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it comes to global health, 2020 may have been the most challenging year in living memory. But together with our partners at the WHO, the Global Coalition for Circulatory Health, and our 200+ Member organizations around the world, WHF remains committed to advocating at the highest levels for better cardiovascular health for all.

To learn more about the World Health Assembly and to get involved, feel free to reach out to the WHF Advocacy Team at advocacy@worldheart.org.