Message from the Chair: about the World Health Assembly
May 26, 2012
It is the craziest meeting in global health. Sierra Leone sent a one-man delegation. Thailand sent a team of sixty, mostly young students of public health - one of the most remarkable capacity-building exercises in global health diplomacy. Ostensibly, this is the one and only global parliament for Ministers of Health. And it is true. Important decisions are made and debates conducted that shape the future of global health - from non-communicable diseases to vaccine policies, from research and development to health in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Members of the iERG are here to listen and learn. To observe how the global conversation around women's and children's health is evolving. It is evolving fast. This week, the Commodities Commission released its preliminary conclusions in New York. In June, there is the USAID-led child survival call to action in Washington, DC. In July, the UK and Gates inspired family planning summit takes place in London. It is hard to keep up with the plethora of new initiatives that are being launched and leveraged.
What does this phenomenal activity mean? Most importantly, it means there is unprecedented political commitment to women and children. The world should be immensely grateful for this commitment. But it is not only political commitment that counts, though this is critically important. Action matters too. And here a new idea is gaining ground.
In truth, the idea - Universal Health Coverage - is not fully new. It has been talked about for some time. But never before has Universal Health Coverage received such wide endorsement from political leaders. In her opening speech, WHO's Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, called it "the single most powerful concept that public health has to offer." And several delegations confirmed to me that no other idea has gripped a World Health Assembly so strongly since "Health for All."
So what does this year's Assembly mean for women and children? Dr Chan reaffirmed her commitment to women and Africa. And she again threw the weight of her position and WHO behind the Secretary-General's "Every Woman Every Child" initiative.
This week has indeed been crazy. But emerging from the other side, I think it has been an important moment, once again, for women and children. Political attention, technical precision, and strong civil society advocacy have all been evident - a powerful mix. A mix that the iERG takes very seriously as we come to define our concerns and conclusions over the coming months.