In brief: a summary of the 59th World Health Assembly

27 May 2006

A tribute to Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO

Dr LEE Jong-wook
WHO/H. Jansen

The opening of the 59th World Health Assembly was overshadowed by the death of Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO. Dr Lee was 61 years old and had been in his post since July 2003. He died on the morning of Monday 22 May following a sudden illness.

In the opening session, delegates observed two minutes of silence in memory of Dr Lee. Later in the week, more than 1000 people packed into the Basilique Notre-Dame in Geneva to attend his funeral.

Some highlights

Application of the International Health Regulations

Examining an x-ray

Following the approval last year of a new set of International Health Regulations (IHR 2005), this year's World Health Assembly agreed to start implementing – on a voluntary basis – some of these new rules a year early. The parts that will be implemented immediately are those that will help the world to prevent, detect and respond to a potential pandemic of human influenza. IHR (2005) will enter into force in June 2007.

Polio eradication

Polio vaccination

The World Health Assembly was urged, in memory of Dr Lee, to quickly finish polio eradication. The Health Assembly adopted a resolution urging the remaining polio-endemic countries to intensify immunization campaigns in the final push to interrupt transmission of the poliovirus. The resolution also calls on all countries to respond rapidly to imported poliovirus, and on WHO to provide technical advice on planning for a post-eradication world.

Integrating nutrition into the overall response to HIV/AIDS

Family eating. Paul is HIV positive.
WHO/Eric Miller

The World Health Assembly adopted a resolution requesting countries to include nutrition an integral part of the overall response to HIV/AIDS by identifying nutrition interventions for immediate integration into HIV/AIDS programmes. Food and good nutrition are immediate and critical needs of people living with HIV/AIDS. The Health Assembly also supported WHO to develop a five-year-plan to help acheive universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment by 2010.

Scaling up the health workforce

A routine medical examination
WHO/Igor Sapozhnikov

In response to the worldwide shortage of health workers, the Health Assembly adopted a resolution on the rapid scaling up of the health workforce. In addition, a new alliance – the Global Health Workforce Alliance – was launched during the Health Assembly to tackle the worldwide shortage of nurses, doctors, midwives and other health workers.

Blindness prevention

Woman with cataract
WHO/Chris de Bode

In adopting the resolution "Prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment", the World Health Assembly called for intensified action to halt and reverse the rise in avoidable blindness in the world. In 2002, more than 161 million people were visually impaired, of whom 37 million were blind.

Preventing and managing sickle-cell anaemia

African children

The World Health Assembly adopted a resolution to develop and strengthen efforts to prevent and manage sickle-cell anaemia. Sickle-cell anaemia is a common genetic condition due to a haemoglobin disorder. Most affected people suffer from chronic anaemia, but it can also lead to a serious risk of death in young children.

Intellectual property rights

Manufacturing medicines

To improve access to medicines, vaccines and diagnostics for people in developing countries, the World Health Assembly agreed to establish an intergovernmental working group to draw up a global strategy and plan of action based on the recommendations of the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health.

Health challenges facing the people of the occupied Palestinian territory

Humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory

During the meeting, delegates expressed concern at the deterioration of the economic and health conditions of people living in the occupied Palestinian territory including east Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan. They passed a resolution requesting WHO to organize an emergency meeting to address this humanitarian crisis, and to continue supporting the Palestinian health services.

The "Global Health Agenda"

Global Health Agenda

The World Health Assembly adopted a ten-year framework outlining the strategic direction for health partners across the globe that includes a situation analysis of the state of global health and seven priority areas for action, called "The Global Health Agenda". These include building global health security, promoting universal coverage for HIV/AIDS treatment, addressing the determinants of health, and strengthening health systems. WHO will use the Global Health Agenda as the basis for engaging with partners to address the critical gaps in improving people's health, in particular that of the poor.