The Sixty-sixth session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) opens in Geneva, Switzerland on Monday 20 May 2013
Geneva | 17 May 2013
About 3000 delegates are expected at this year’s session which runs until 28 May 2013.
Agenda issues for this year include a draft resolution on all 17 neglected tropical diseases.
The World Health Assembly (WHA)- the supreme decision-making body of WHO- is attended by delegations from all 194 WHO Member States. It focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board.
In January 2013, the Executive Board, meeting in Geneva, recommended to the Sixty-sixth Health Assembly – WHO’s decision-making body – to adopt a resolution on all 17 neglected tropical diseases.
The 17 neglected tropical diseases form a group characterized by their association with poverty and their proliferation in tropical environments where multiple infections in a single individual are common. These diseases affect more than 1 billion people and are caused by a variety of pathogens: viruses, bacteria, protozoa and helminths.
Until 2005, approaches to overcoming these diseases remained disease-specific, when WHO and its partners analyzed the evidence and best practices and recommended that a common, integrated approach be used for their prevention and control.
WHO has since accumulated evidence to show that the burden caused by many of these diseases can be effectively controlled and, in some cases, eliminated or even eradicated.
A Global Partners’ Meeting in 2007 marked a turning point resulting in increased commitment and engagement from Member States where these diseases were endemic and the pharmaceutical industry, and in expanded collaboration among partners.
As a consequence, countries endemic for neglected tropical diseases and their partners have been enabled to increase steadily access to and coverage with treatment programmes mostly using essential medicines donated on a large scale.
First WHO report on neglected tropical diseases and the roadmap
WHO published its first report on neglected tropical diseases in 2010, highlighting their adverse impacts on health and the successes of Member States through collaboration with the private sector and other partners. These initial successes have led to increased donations of essential medicines by industry, enabling countries to scale up interventions.
In 2012, WHO published its roadmap to accelerate work on neglected tropical diseases, with targets for the eradication of dracunculiasis (2015) and yaws (2020).
Furthermore, six targets are set for the elimination of five neglected tropical diseases by 2015 and a further 10 elimination targets are set for 2020 either globally or in selected geographical areas for nine neglected tropical diseases.
The roadmap also sets out targets for intensified control of dengue, Buruli ulcer, cutaneous leishmaniasis, selected zoonoses and helminthiases.
Public health approaches to tackling neglected tropical diseases
Five public-health interventions are recommended in the roadmap to accelerate the work on prevention, control, elimination, and eradication of neglected tropical diseases: preventive chemotherapy; intensified case-management; effective vector control; the provision of safe drinking-water, basic sanitation and hygiene; and involvement of veterinary public health.
Although one approach may predominate for the control of a specific disease or group of diseases, evidence suggests that more effective control results when several approaches are combined and delivered locally.
The London Declaration
In January 2012, following the publication of WHO’s roadmap, a community of partners endorsed the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Participants at the meeting – heads of global health organizations, donors, politicians and pharmaceutical industry leaders – committed themselves inter alia, to do their part: (a) to sustain, expand and extend programmes that ensure the necessary supply of medicines and other interventions; (b) to advance research and development through partnerships and provision of funding to find next-generation treatments and interventions; (c) to enhance collaboration and coordination at national and international levels; (d) to enable adequate funding with countries endemic for the neglected tropical diseases to implement programmes necessary to achieve these goals, supported by strong and committed health systems at the national level; and (e) to provide technical support, tools and resources to countries endemic for these diseases to evaluate and monitor those programmes.
A step towards achieving universal health coverage
As both WHO’s roadmap and the London declaration make clear, prevention and control of neglected tropical diseases form an integral part of universal health coverage, which prioritizes the public health needs of poor people and delivers interventions through appropriate technology at sustainable cost.
Universal coverage for prevention and control interventions against neglected tropical diseases depends critically on the existence of stronger, more efficient health systems, access to essential medicines of assured quality at affordable prices, and a well-trained and motivated work force, as well as the involvement of other sectors including finance, education, agriculture and livestock, water supply, environment and management.
Call for a resolution
In 2012 a technical briefing on neglected tropical diseases chaired by the Sixty-fifth World Health Assembly President Assembly’s President highlighted the relevance and priority that communities endemic for those diseases give to their prevention, control, elimination and eradication.
Member States participating in this briefing called for a draft resolution on neglected tropical diseases to be submitted to the Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly for consideration.
WHO’s second report on neglected tropical diseases
In January 2013, WHO published its second report Sustaining the drive to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases which sets milestones for reaching the goals and targets outlined in the roadmap, defines the concepts of eradication and elimination for some of the diseases and expands the concept of universal health coverage as it applies to neglected tropical diseases.
The report also analyses the challenges that remain at country level, identifies the elements needed to strengthen human resources, and underlines the need for cooperation with other sectors such as education, agriculture and veterinary health.