Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

Sixty-third World Health Assembly adopts resolutions on MDGs, infant feeding, pneumonia, and birth defects

21 May 2010

The World Health Assembly, WHO's supreme decision-making body, gathered for the 63rd time from 17 to 21 May 2010 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Several resolutions were adopted on key issues for child and adolescent health, including: monitoring of the achievement of the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); infant and young child nutrition; treatment and prevention of pneumonia; and birth defects.

Monitoring of the achievement of the health-related MDGs

The resolution expresses concern at the relatively slow progress in attaining the health-related MDGs, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and at the fact that maternal, newborn and child health as well as universal access to reproductive health services remain constrained by health inequities. Member States noted that MDGs 4 and 5 are lagging behind, and agreed to strengthen national health systems as well as take into account health equity in all national policies. They also reaffirmed the value of primary health care and renewed their commitment to prevent and eliminate maternal, newborn and child mortality and morbidity.

Infant and young child nutrition

Recognizing that improved breastfeeding practices alone could save the lives of one million children under five and complementary feeding along with continual breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond could save the lives of another half million children each year, a resolution was adopted on infant and young child nutrition.

The resolution calls on Member States to increase political commitment, and put in place stronger laws to protect and promote breastfeeding and regulate the marketing of breast-milk substitutes. It also calls for strengthening of nutritional surveillance systems and improved use of MDG indicators to monitor progress. Moreover, it requests WHO to develop a comprehensive implementation plan on infant and young child nutrition for preliminary discussion at the next World Health Assembly and finalization at the Sixty-Fifth World Health Assembly.

Treatment and prevention of pneumonia

A resolution on the treatment and prevention of pneumonia -- the number one killer of children under five -- makes clear that MDG 4 can only be achieved with intensified efforts to address pneumonia. Three groups of effective interventions to protect, promote and treat children with pneumonia are highlighted in the resolution, in line with the Global Action Plan for the prevention and control of pneumonia (GAPP) launched by WHO and UNICEF in November 2009:

  • Protect children by providing a healthy environment where they are at low risk of pneumonia with exclusive breastfeeding for six months, adequate nutrition thereafter, preventing low-birth-weight, reducing indoor air pollution and good hand hygiene;
  • Prevent children from becoming ill with pneumonia by vaccinating against its causes: measles, pertussis, pneumococcus, Haemophilus influenzae b (Hib), as well as preventing and treating HIV in children; and
  • Treat children who become ill with pneumonia through effective case management in communities, health centres and hospitals.

Birth defects

A resolution was adopted to redress the limited focus to date on preventing and managing birth defects, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Birth defects can be the result of congenital disorders or preventable factors such as infections or poor nutrition of the mother during pregnancy, vaccine-preventable diseases, consumption of alcohol, tobacco or drugs, or exposure to chemical substances such as pesticides.

The resolution calls on Member States to prevent birth defects wherever possible, implement screening programmes, and provide ongoing support and care to children with birth defects and their families. WHO is to support Member States in implementing these services and to strengthen research and data collection in this area.