Resolutions and highlights from the 2011 World Health Assembly

An interesting synopsis of key resolutions, decisions and highlights from the 2011 World Health Assembly, courtesy of World Health Advocacy.  The World Health Assembly, held in Geneva Switzerland, started May 16th and closed today.

This year's World Health Assembly saw an unprecedented social engagement, with updates and discussions being shared via twitter, facebook and other media. The global discussion was significant enough to cause Dr. Chan to comment on it in her closing speech – "tweets about events over the past several days, on topics ranging from the reform agenda for WHO to pandemic influenza preparedness, reached more than three million people."

More than 2700 delegates, including Health Ministers and senior health officials from 192 WHO Member States, NGOs and civil society groups attended the World Health Assembly in person. Following a week's worth of discussions, the following are some of the key resolutions and highlights:

Non-communicable diseases

Countries unanimously approved a resolution on the preparations for the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases being held this September. Some 47 countries and 16 observers, including civil society, commented on the resolution, which urges heads of state and governments to attend the UN meeting in New York and calls for steps against the NCD challenge through an action-oriented outcome document.

Read the WHO report.

Working together to stop HIV/AIDS

The Global Health Sector Strategy on HIV/AIDS, 2011-2015 was approved, and will guide actions by WHO and governments around the world to dramatically increase innovation, integration and efficiencies of HIV programmes. If all countries implement these guidelines, at least 4.2 million new HIV infections could be prevented and 2 million lives saved between 2011-2015.

Global immunization vision and strategy

In a great show of support, many delegates and global health partners in Committee A spoke in favour of the Global Immunization Vision and Strategy. Delegates applauded strides in saving lives around the world through vaccines, noting key challenges such as eradicating polio and increasing measles vaccination coverage to prevent dangerous outbreaks.

Read the report and strategic direction for the Decade of Vaccines.

The final mile in polio

Delegates described significant advances in polio eradication over the past year. In India and Nigeria, polio cases plummeted by 95% between 2009 and 2010. Highlighting the necessity of routine immunization, delegates pointed to the funding gap of US$ 665 million, and warned that a lack of resources could lead to dangerous backslide. Several delegates called for political and financial commitments, noting that low-income countries could save US$ 40-50 billion over the next 25 years.

Maternal, infant and young child nutrition

More than 100 million children under five were underweight in 2010. Additionally, more women are becoming overweight, increasing the risk of birth complications. Delegates in Committee B discussed a progress report on a plan to tackle problems of poor nutrition through awareness campaigns, and policies involving health, education and agriculture.

Resolutions and reports support health-related MDGs

Health-related MDGs received support with resolutions and reports on immunization strategy, infant and young child nutrition, child injury prevention, safe management of drinking water, malaria, and the presentation of the final report of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women's and Children's Health.

Cholera: mechanism for control and prevention

Delegates agreed that cholera is a public health threat for many countries and the incidence is on the rise. They expressed the urgent need for effective public health interventions, such as solid surveillance systems, improved environmental management, access to clean water and proper sanitation, and the adequate use of cholera vaccines as a complementary measure. Cholera was recognized as a clear marker of environmental management. Member States underscored the need to revitalize the Global Task Force on Cholera Control and emphasized the need to scale up advocacy measures.

Annual report on the eradication guinea-worm disease

The delegates adopted a resolution paving the way for an annual report on the eradication of dracunculiasis (more commonly known as guinea-worm disease) to be presented every year beginning with the next Health Assembly. Dracunculiasis is the second disease which is approaching eradication (the first being smallpox) and it occurs only after people drink contaminated water. Previously it was responsible for millions of infections across Africa and Asia. The disease mainly occurs in remote poverty-stricken areas, with limited or no access to safe drinking water.