Media centre

Sixty-fifth World Health Assembly: daily notes on proceedings

Notes: Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases

Continuing their discussions from Monday, delegates approved a resolution (EB130.R6) on strengthening noncommunicable disease (NCD) policies to promote active ageing. The resolution urges Member States to encourage the active participation of older people in society, increase healthy ageing and promote the highest standard of health and well-being for older persons by addressing their needs. This includes placing emphasis on disease prevention throughout the life-course, starting at the earliest stage, possible, in particular from NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases.

Many Member States welcomed the progress made on the work under way by WHO to develop of a global monitoring framework, including indicators, and a set of voluntary global targets for the prevention and control of NCDs. A draft resolution presented by Barbados, Brazil, Canada, the Russian Federation and the United States of America recognized the significant progress made. In order to complete the work before the end of 2012, Member States requested that a drafting group be established to agree on the next steps moving forward. These will be included in a revised version of the draft resolution for consideration by Member States later this week.

Member States also discussed ways to prevent NCDs through action involving other sectors than health, in particular education, energy, agriculture, sports, transport, communication, urban planning, environment, labour, employment, industry and trade, finance, and social and economic development. Multisectoral action against NCDs involves national authorities engaging with these sectors to prevent premature deaths from NCDs and to reduce exposure to risk factors for NCDs, mainly: tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity. The building of partnerships at national and global levels are essential components of multisectoral action against NCDs. At the national level, Member States highlighted successful approaches and lessons learned. At the global level, Member States indicated a strong preference to build on existing partnerships for NCDs guided by WHO norms, values and commitments, and informed and shaped by the critical challenges of our time, rather than to create a new global partnership on NCDs.

Member States also heard a report on the progress of the implementation of the global action plan for the prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment covering the period 2009-2013. A new action plan 2013-2019 is under development and will be the topic of discussion at the next World Health Assembly.

Global burden of mental disorders

Committee A also approved the resolution EB130.R8 on global burden of mental disorders and the need for a comprehensive, coordinated response from health and social sectors at the country level. Countries supported the resolution, while recognizing the importance of:

  • community-based care close to patients' homes;
  • programmes to reduce stigma and discrimination;
  • reintegration of patients into workplace and society;
  • support for care providers and families;
  • improving the understanding of role of substance abuse and domestic violence in contributing to and exacerbating mental health disorders;
  • need for school-based programmes for prevention of youth suicide;
  • increasing research and surveillance of the burden of mental disorders and the investment in mental health from the health budget.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway calls for multi-sectoral approach to health

Mr Jonas Gahr Støre, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway and former WHO staff member, addressed a plenary session as an invited speaker. He stated that “all ministers are ministers of health” to stress how health should be mainstreamed into a comprehensive governmental approach.

He argued that the economics of health should be about more than cost. Rather, health should be considered an investment in the security of nations. Through a partnership between health, economic and foreign policy bodies, countries can strengthen their security as well as provide real opportunities for economic progress.

Mr Støre described the link between health and productivity citing the WHO report on the macroeconomics of health. He said the high-value investment in women’s health in Norway has resulted in a joint research project led by WHO, the Gates Foundation and the Norwegian Government to examine the evidence of investment in female health as a driver of economic growth.

Princess of Morocco discusses cancer prevention and treatment as an equity issue

HRH Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco addressed a full plenary session of the World Health Assembly to call for making cancer a priority health concern at all levels of development. “There is an 85% cure rate for childhood cancers in some northern countries, and no childhood cancer treatment in some countries in the South,” she pointed out. Such glaring disparities between rich and poor countries can be narrowed with better prevention, detection, access to treatment, and research, she said. She cited the increase in the number of oncology centres in Morocco from four to 13 in six years to illustrate what can be done when there is the political will. Her message that “cancer is not inevitable” was received well by the Member States.

Building global solidarity against tobacco industry’s attacks

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan made a strong call for solidarity with countries which “have taken bold and innovative steps to protect their citizens from death and disease.” Speaking at an event about the tobacco industry’s changed tactics, she pointed out that the high-profile legal actions targeting countries like Australia and Uruguay are designed to instill fear in countries wishing to introduce equally tough tobacco control measures. Australia, Namibia and Uruguay shared their experience in confronting tobacco industry attacks and tactics while setting and implementing tobacco control legislation. More than 120 participants joined to learn about the tobacco industry's subversive methods of political interference, intimidation and litigation in several countries.

In the build-up to the World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, whose slogan this year is “Stop tobacco industry interference”, Tuesday’s debate drew attention to the new phase of the warfare between public health and the tobacco industry. The discussion highlighted the need for solidarity and timely support to all Member States that are aggressively attacked by the tobacco industry and its allies in the process of introducing strong measures to implement the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control.

Biography of Dr LEE Jong-wook released

An official biography of the late former WHO Director-General Dr LEE Jong-wook was released at a ceremony Tuesday. Six years ago, Dr LEE passed away just hours before the start of the Fifty-ninth World Health Assembly. Delegates, WHO regional directors, Assistant Directors-General, and many staff members from across WHO took part in the launch in the presence of Director-General Dr Margaret Chan and Dr LEE’s widow, Reike Kaburaki. The biography, Dr LEE Jong-wook: A life in health and politics, was jointly commissioned by the Korean Foundation for International Health Care (KOFIH) and WHO.

Recommendations on financing research and development

The Consultative Expert Working Group (CEWG) on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination presented its report to the World Health Assembly, containing recommendations for securing new funds for health R&D on diseases that affect people in developing countries. The CEWG is an international expert group convened by WHO to improve global financing for health research and development.

The report was presented by the Chair Dr John-Arne Rottingen from Norway and Vice-Chair Professor Claudia Chamas from Brazil. The group has based a number of its recommendations on the principle of delinking the cost of development of a medical product from its price in order to keep the required medical products affordable to the people in developing countries. Proposals include mandatory government commitments, pooling of funding, and an international binding convention on global R&D.

Elimination of new HIV infections among children

Delegates from 22 countries came together at a side-event to the Health Assembly to discuss ways of accelerating action to reduce new HIV infections in children by 90% in support of achieving the 2015 Millennium Development Goal 6. These countries currently have 86% of new HIV infections in children. The delegates reviewed progress, shared experiences of actions taken and discussed next steps with partner organizations towards the 2015 goal. WHO has been co-chairing the Interagency Task Team on Prevention and Treatment of HIV Infection in Pregnant Women, Mothers and their Children together with UNICEF to provide coordinated support for the focus countries from 28 major partner organizations.

Preterm birth

Every year 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 weeks of gestation) and that number is rising. Preterm birth is now the second leading cause of under-five mortality, resulting in 1.1 million deaths every year. More than 70 participants from 30 countries gathered for a special briefing on preterm birth, based on new evidence in the recently released Born too soon report, which included the first-ever national estimates on preterm births. Representatives from China and Malawi talked about their countries’ activities to address the issue. The report is co-published by WHO, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), Save the Children and the March of Dimes.

eHealth facilitating patient-centred care and healthy ageing

As more countries face the challenges of an ageing population, a side event on Tuesday brought together representatives from several countries who are already using information and communications technologies to make care more inclusive, efficient and more accessible for chronic diseases. Aruba, for example, is using "smart pill" boxes with alarms to ensure home-bound patients take medicines on schedule. Alerts are sent to caregivers if the medicines are not taken on time.

Effective policies and legal systems, as well as a vision for a coherent, continuous system of care throughout the life-course, are key to adoption and best use of eHealth. The discussion highlighted the need to engage stakeholders and empower patients, particularly as societies increasingly shift the responsibility of care to individuals themselves. Speakers reiterated equity is critical and common tools such as cell phones are essential to connect health and wellbeing. The event was co-hosted by WHO and the European Commission.