|Press Release WHA/1
14 May 1999
52ND WORLD HEALTH ASSEMBLY OPENS IN GENEVA ON 17 MAY 1999
Ten months after the change in leadership at the World Health Organization (WHO), the 52nd World Health Assembly is the "unveiling" for a reformed WHO.
"The past nine months were the pregnancy period," says Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Director-General of WHO. "The assembly is the end of that. It will give us an opportunity to focus on the important health issues and on the way ahead."
The process of structural change within the organization has now largely been completed at Headquarters, giving WHO the tools necessary to do the work more effectively, Dr Brundtland adds.
This year's Assembly reflects the new priorities of the organization. To increase dialogue and underline the Assembly's role as a world forum for health policy debate, a number of ministerial round table discussions have been added to the programme. An address by the Nobel Laureate for economics, Professor Amartya Sen, stresses the increased emphasis in the organization of seeing health as playing a central part in a wider development agenda.
A number of technical and medical issues will dominate the agenda, including a decision on what is to happen to existing stocks of the smallpox virus, the launching of the campaign to enact a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a review of the actions necessary to reach the goal of eradicating polio by the end of 2000 and the reaffirmation of the importance of WHO's Roll Back Malaria campaign.
Also high up on the agenda is the 2000-2001 budget. Being Dr Brundtland's first, the proposed budget is considered as the most concrete and comprehensive expression of her direction and of priorities for WHO.
"We have been serious when looking at the needs and challenges and in proposing the budget that we have," she says. "It is up to the health assembly to make these decisions, and I am not pre-empting these results, but we should be working with governments to see that we get the best possible result."
The proposed two-year budget is based on the previous one but the administration has worked hard to convince Member States to compensate for eventual currency and price fluctuations, thereby ensuring a "zero real growth". Dr Brundtland warned the Executive Board in January that a regular budget approved at the exact same figure as the previous period would actually mean a reduction of several million US dollars. That would continue a trend of shrinking resources for the organization at a time when the challenges are greater than ever.
Ministerial round table discussions on 18 and 19 May will focus on four issues: Health sector priorities, hospital investments, health system financing and strategies for responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
All round table discussions aim at going beyond the national positions and creating a lively debate on best possible solutions and how to share experiences. They will be hosted by internationally known media personalities and be videotaped for later television use in Member States. The round table discussions will be summarized in reports that will be presented to the plenary of the Assembly later in the week.
For further information, journalists can contact Gregory Hartl, Office of Press and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (41 22) 791 44 58. Fax (41 22) 791 48 58. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.int