Some highlights of the 58th World Health Assembly

26 May 2005

New rules to protect against international spread of disease

Looking at an x-ray

One of the highlights of this year's World Health Assembly was the approval of a new set of International Health Regulations to manage public health emergencies of international concern. The new rules will "prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease". The 2003 SARS outbreak and more recent outbreaks of avian influenza have underscored the need for new rules to govern the roles of countries and WHO in identifying and responding to health emergencies.

Health action in crises

WHO staff in the field

The World Health Assembly adopted a resolution calling upon the international community to continue its support to areas in crises, especially those affected by the tsunami of December 2004. The resolution also calls for WHO to intensify its support for people living in affected areas, by focussing on disease-surveillance systems, access to clean water, sanitation, and health care, including mental health. More than 30 countries worldwide are currently facing major, often long-standing crises.


Mother and infant under mosquito net

Malaria causes more than one million preventable deaths a year, mostly among young children in sub-Saharan Africa. In order to decrease this global burden and to ensure more children survive, the Health Assembly adopted a resolution calling on WHO and partners to intensify support to countries to ensure that internationally agreed malaria control goals are met. The resolution also requested that WHO study the possibility of undertaking bulk purchases of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and antimalarial medicines.

Influenza preparedness and response


The World Health Assembly adopted a resolution urging countries to develop and implement national plans for pandemic-influenza preparedness and response. This involves improving surveillance so that a flu pandemic can be detected and responded to early. The resolution also calls on WHO to work with partners to reduce the global shortage of influenza vaccines.

Global Immunization Vision and Strategy

Measles vaccine

The World Health Assembly welcomed the Global Immunization Vision and Strategy (GIVS) – a ten-year strategy to fight vaccine-preventable diseases, which currently kill more than two million people every year. GIVS aims to immunize more people against more diseases, introduce a range of newly available vaccines and technologies, and provide more interventions, such as mosquito nets and vitamin A, along with immunization services.

Improving the lives of people with disabilities

Women in a wheelchair

Another highlight of the World Health Assembly was the adoption of a resolution that could substantially improve the lives of some 600 million people with disabilities. The resolution calls upon countries to promote the rights and dignity of people with disabilities; support community-based rehabilitation; and include a disability component in national health policies and programmes. It also urges WHO to produce a world report on disability and rehabilitation based on the best available scientific evidence.

Cancer prevention and control

Breast examination (Corbis

In response to the rising levels of cancer worldwide, the Health Assembly approved a resolution calling for improved cancer prevention measures, improved early detection and treatment, and more palliative care in all Member State countries. WHO will prepare a strategy on cancer prevention and control which will help countries address this growing health crisis, and represents an important new initiative for WHO.

Harmful use of alcohol

Man drinking alcohol

Global drinking patterns, rising rates of consumption, and drinking to excess particularly among young people, are some factors that have contributed to the harmful use of alcohol becoming one of the leading risks to health. Alcohol now results in 4% of the global burden of disease as a causal factor in more than 60 diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, mental disorders and road traffic injuries and death. In response, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution instructing WHO to examine the public health problems caused by the harmful use of alcohol.