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Sixty-third World Health Assembly

Notes from day 4: Thursday, 20 May 2010

Health Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): Future directions

The last of three technical briefings on MDGs concluded with participants calling for renewed action to achieve the health-MDGs. Key themes raised by speakers were political commitment, strategic alliances, health policies integrated across all government ministries, well-coordinated resources and measurable indicators.

Several speakers repeated the need for extensive training of health workers alongside the need for the better use of existing money as essential to ensure country capacity. They also highlighted the changing health profiles of countries and the need to focus attention on the emerging priority of noncommunicable diseases that presents burdens on the population and health care spending - as much as 60 percent.

Participants noted the importance of:

  • strengthening health systems;
  • focusing on primary health care and integrated delivery;
  • ensuring political commitment and inter-sectoral cooperation;
  • strengthening the aid architecture to improve effectiveness and national ownership in the development agenda;
  • improving quality and quantity of health care workers; and
  • making use of innovations including information communication technology in addressing MDGs.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan noted that with the increasing complexity of global health architecture, harmonization and coordination is essential to prevent fragmentation. The International Health Partnership serves as the mechanism for unifying all partners, under the leadership of country governments.


Strategies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol

Each year, 2.5 million people worldwide die of alcohol-related causes. Harmful drinking is a risk factor for noncommunicable diseases and is also associated with various infectious diseases, as well as road traffic crashes, violence and suicides.

Member States discussed a global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol which sets priority areas for action and recommends a portfolio of policy options and measures.

Member States were urged to adopt and implement the global strategy in order to complement and support public health policies and to mobilize political will and financial resources. WHO was requested to implement the strategy in collaboration with Member States, monitor progress and provide support to Member States, as appropriate, in strengthening national responses to public health problems caused by harmful use of alcohol.

International recruitment of health workers

The Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel aims to establish and promote voluntary principles and practices for the ethical international recruitment of health personnel.

The code provides Member States with ethical principles for international health worker recruitment that strengthen the health systems of developing countries. It discourages states from actively recruiting health personnel from developing countries that face critical shortages of health workers, and encourages them to facilitate the "circular migration of health personnel" to maximize skills and knowledge sharing. It also enshrines equal rights of both migrant and non-migrant health workers.

Member States are to provide WHO with data on health worker migration in two years, and thereafter provide updates every three years.

Prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases

Noncommunicable diseases - mainly cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes - kill nearly 35 million people per year. Almost 90% of fatalities before the age of 60 occur in developing countries and are largely preventable.

Member States reviewed progress achieved during the first two years in implementing the Action Plan for the Global Strategy on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. Member States highlighted successful approaches in:

  • implementing interventions aimed at monitoring noncommunicable diseases and their contributing factors;
  • addressing risk factors and determinants supported by effective mechanisms of intersectoral action; and
  • improving health care for people with noncommunicable diseases through health system strengthening.

Developing countries also underlined that official development assistance in building sustainable institutional capacity to tackle noncommunicable diseases remains insignificant.

Global eradication of measles

About 20 delegates took the floor during the discussion and endorsed targets set for 2015 as milestones towards the eventual global eradication of measles. Member States were encouraged by the progress made in controlling measles, but also highlighted the formidable challenges that need to be addressed to achieve the 2015 targets. These include:

  • competing public health priorities;
  • weak immunization systems;
  • sustaining high routine vaccination coverage;
  • addressing the US$ 298 million funding gap;
  • vaccinating the hard-to-reach population; and
  • addressing an increasing number of measles outbreaks particularly in cross-border areas.

Success in achieving the measles 2015 targets is essential if the MDG 4 - reduce child mortality - is to be reached.

Smallpox eradication: destruction of variola virus stocks

The destruction of existing stocks of live smallpox virus was discussed and Member States were updated on activities including the vaccine stockpile of 32.6 million doses in Switzerland, research proposals, research advances and biosafety inspections of the current stockpiles of the virus at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States of America and the VECTOR laboratory in the Russian Federation. Delegates were pleased to learn of research advances but many expressed interest in the timeline for destruction.