Alliance Executive Director applauds 62nd WHA for HRH commitment and leadership

25 May 2009 | GENEVA - The 62nd World Health Assembly (WHA) closed last Friday, 22 May with resolutions to tackle a number of public health issues, including an emphasis on health system strengthening and the renewal of primary health care within the context of universal and equitable coverage, person-centered care, health in all policies, and inclusive leadership.

An essential component of the health system, human resources for health has long been recognized as a core determinant to attaining improved health outcomes. Developing a capable, motivated and supported health workforce is crucial in overcoming bottlenecks to realizing national and global health goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. At the heart of each and every health system, the workforce is central to advancing health. Achieving health equity and providing universal health coverage along with access to quality health care services requires a focused approach on investment in human resources for health.

Against the backdrop of the ensuing global financial crisis and the AH1N1 emergency, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and UK First Lady Sarah Brown called on governments to invest in strong public health systems. As the WHO Director-General pointed out "the power of public health and all our best interventions is blunted when health systems are weak." She added "an effective public health response depends on strong health systems that are inclusive, offering universal coverage right down to the community level. It depends on adequate numbers of appropriately trained, motivated, and compensated staff."

The UN Secretary-General emphasized that health systems are "the guardians of good health in normal times and the bedrock of our response to the new outbreaks and emerging diseases." The SG added that "if a health system is available and accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and capable of handling normal deliveries and emergencies, then it is equipped to provide a wide range of other services as well."

Sarah Brown, wife of UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, made a plea to ministers by asking them to put girls and women at the centre of health systems funding, pointing to the key role of maternal health in building strong health systems: "A health system that works for a mother, works also for early infant care, for vaccinations, for infection control, for blood transfusions, for emergency surgery for every member of the community. There is better understanding now than ever before than if we build for mothers then we build for everyone".

At the opening session on Monday, 18 May, HE Leslie Ramsammy, the Health Minister of Guyana and immediate-past president of the WHA, early on stated that "ensuring enough health care professionals are available, addressing the supply side, ensuring the proper mix and distribution for this supply are the real challenges that face Ministers of Health and Health Ministries around the world." He added "for us to derive maximum benefit from the financial and HR investment, we must strengthen health systems. Health Systems Strengthening must not be another set of buzz words. Health system strengthening must be bread and butter issues for Ministers of Health and for the WHO."

Dr Mubashar Sheikh, Executive Director of the Alliance expressed deep satisfaction for the supportive statements delivered by global leaders during the five-day session. Dr Sheikh said "leadership at multiple levels is the key, essential ingredient in addressing the global health worker shortage. About one billion people worldwide lack even the simplest of care because of a critical shortage of trained health workers. In recent years, the world has seen far more leadership on this issue. This needs to be replicated and expanded - globally- if we are to close the global health worker gap."

The World Health Assembly is the supreme decision-making body for WHO. It meets once a year and is attended by delegations from all of WHO's 192 Member States. Its main function is to determine the policies of the Organization. It also appoints the Director-General and supervises the financial policies of the Organization. The 63rd session of the WHA is scheduled for May 2010.