70th World Health Assembly Under Way

This year's meeting is the final one with Dr. Margaret Chan as director-general of WHO. She told the delegates that countries should work to improve their collection of health data and should make health strategies more accountable.

The 70th World Health Assembly is taking place this week in Geneva, Switzerland, and it is the final assembly with Dr. Margaret Chan as director-general of the World Health Organization. She told the delegates May 22 that countries should work to improve their collection of health data and should make health strategies more accountable.

The annual World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO. It is attended by all WHO Member States -- some 3,500 delegates from the 194 Member States are attending this year, including a large proportion of the world's health ministers -- and focuses on a health agenda prepared by the Executive Board. The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of WHO, appoint the director-general, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed program budget. The new director-general will take office July 1 to begin a five-year term.

One of the first actions taken May 22 was the election of Professor Veronica Skvortsova, minister of healthcare of the Russian Federation, as the Health Assembly's new president. Vice presidents were appointed from Cabo Verde, the Cook Islands, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Somalia, and Suriname.

Topics on the meeting's agenda include medicines; nutrition; health products; noncommunicable diseases; emergency preparedness and response; polio; antimicrobial resistance; and maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health.

WHO and the UN Foundation will produce three Facebook Live shows during the assembly, which continues through May 31. Shows featuring public health experts who will take questions from the audience on Facebook will be broadcast on WHO's Facebook channel:

  • May 23: 10 years of public health progress – how it was done and lessons learned for the future
  • May 25: Health as a human right, Women and children's health, and vector control strategy
  • May 26: Threats to human health: Conflicts and disease outbreaks, climate change and health, antimicrobial resistance and noncommunicable diseases

In her opening address, Chan asked the delegates to make "reducing inequalities" a guiding ethical principle and said protecting scientific evidence should form "the bedrock of policy," citing vaccine refusal as one of the reasons that the "tremendous potential of vaccines is not yet fully realized."

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