70th World Health Assembly Report

Viviana Martinez-Bianchi MD, WONCA-WHO Liaison and WONCA Executive Member-at-Large report on the recent World Health Assembly (WHA)


Every year the World Health Organization (WHO) hosts the World Health Assembly (WHA) in the United Nations’ Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. WHA is the decision-making body of WHO. It is attended by delegations from 193 Member States and almost 200 non-governmental organisations from across the world, and it focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board. The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of the Organization, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget.

WONCA delegation at the 70th World Health Assembly

WONCA was represented at the 70th World Health Assembly by Amanda Howe (WONCA President), Donald Li (WONCA President-Elect), Garth Manning (WONCA CEO) and Viviana Martinez-Bianchi (WONCA-WHO Liaison).  (Photo from left to right: Garth, Viviana, Amanda, Donald)

Member States of WHO elected Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus from Ethiopia as the new Director-General of WHO. He begin his five-year term on 1 July 2017. He intends to lead an agenda where universal health care and universal health coverage are at the forefront, addressing financial barriers, access to needed medications, decreasing barriers to equality, and improving access to quality of care and diagnosis.

WHA Delegates at the World Health Assembly reached new agreements on investment on the Health Emergencies Program and on combating antimicrobial resistance. They reaffirmed the critical role played by the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework, they discussed polio eradication, and the urgent need to achieve full implementation of the International Health Regulations to prepare for, prevent and respond to acute public health threats. They also endorsed a global action plan on the public health response to dementia; they addresses immunizations; sepsis; refugee and migrant health; substandard and falsified medical products; occupational health, and the world drug problem. For detailed information you can go here.

During the WHA, WONCA’s delegation attended several side events, hosted dinners and held meetings with 13 WHO departments and other NGOs to discuss current and future joint activities in areas including international classifications systems, mental health, people-centred care, workforce, and strategies for Family Medicine around the world.

WHA Resolutions and Family Medicine

WONCA submitted statements to the WHA on the following agenda items: Human resources for health and implementation of the outcomes of the United Nations’ High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth; Promoting the health of refugees and migrants; and the Draft global action plan on the public health response to dementia. These statements alongside all other NGO statements can be found here.

Amanda Howe, WONCA president was a speaker at a high level side event 'Building Health Care Systems for the Future", sponsored by the People's Republic of China, with participation of BRIC countries (Brazil, the Russian Federation, India and China). The event highlighted people-centered service delivery innovations that are currently taking place in BRICS countries. As well as the perspectives of other countries, professional associations and patients organizations in adopting people-centered approaches to support progress towards Universal Health Care and the health-related SDGs. Amanda was a speaker at an International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations’ preconference on Saturday 20th May, in a panel discussing on human resources for health, with panelists from the World Medical Association; Health Workers for All; and International Committee of the Red Cross.

An important resolutions adopted by the 70th World Health Assembly should be highlighted for its potential contribution to the global development of Family Medicine. The Health Assembly, with Resolution A70R6 agreed to a 5-year action plan under which “WHO will collaborate with the International Labour Organization, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in working with governments and key stakeholders to address the global health and social workforce shortfall and contribute to international efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” This plan calls on countries to view the health and social workforce as an investment, and take advantage of the economic benefits of growth in the health and social sector to achieve universal access to health care. It outlines how ILO, OECD and WHO will take “intersectoral action on five fronts: galvanizing political support; strengthening data and evidence; transforming and scaling up the education, skills and decent jobs of health and social workers; increasing resources to build the health and social workforces; and maximizing the multiple benefits that can be obtained from international health worker mobility.” The plan also focuses on gender work equity, proposing to maximize women’s economic empowerment and participation. It addresses occupational health and safety, protection and security of the health and social workforce in all healthcare settings. This proposal also recognized the importance of the Global Health Workforce Network as a mechanism for action. This proposal and its resulting resolution was of particular interest to WONCA. And our organization was heard during the committee discussion here

WHO’s upcoming meetings of importance for Family Medicine

• WHO Global Conference on Noncommunicable diseases: Enhancing policy coherence between different spheres of policy making that have a bearing on attaining SDG target 3.4 on NCDs by 2030, to be held in Montevideo, Uruguay, 18-20 October 2017. More information.

• Fourth Global Forum on Human Resources for Health, 13-17 November 2017 Royal Dublin Society, Dublin, Ireland. More information.

WONCA will continue to play a key role in WHO consultations on several issues related to health and healthcare, in providing evidence, and in working with the WHO to develop and put in action the Five-Year Action Plan on Health Employment and Economic Growth, and the ‘Framework on integrated, people-centred health services’. Be on the lookout for requests for members of SIGS and working parties to offer responses and ideas to requests for consultations, to present information to strengthen data and evidence, and demonstrate the important role of Family Medicine specialists around the world.

WONCA Statement

WONCA Statement to the 70th World Health Assembly on the “Five Year Action plan on Human resources for health and implementation of the outcomes of the United Nations’ High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth”

“Good afternoon Honorable Chair, distinguished delegates. The World Organization of Family Doctors represents members from more than 150 countries in all regions of the world, and brings together those who are committed to developing family medicine as a key discipline for stronger and more effective health systems. We welcome the World Health Organization’s commitment to supporting reforms in the health workforce, particularly welcoming Recommendation 4 of the Action Plan which focuses on the development of the primary health care sector. We note the statement in the Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health that “… Adequate investment in the health-care workforce, including general practice and family medicine, is required to provide community-based, person-centred, continuous, equitable and integrated care.”

We recommend that, to meet the full recommendations and achieve the outcomes desired, all parties recognize that family medicine is the key specialty whose competencies and scope of practice allow comprehensive, coordinated and person centered care that meets multiple needs for patients and communities over time. Family doctors, working with other primary care workers, can integrate patient needs for prevention, acute and chronic care across disease groups, in a way that centers care on the particular individual, their family and their context.

When appropriately trained and working within adequately resourced clinical settings, family doctors have been shown to be both cost-effective, valuable, and able to improve health outcomes in whole populations. All countries have the potential to transform their health workforce by training more family doctors as a critical part of multidisciplinary teams providing integrated, people-centred primary health care – the foundation of universal health coverage. WONCA commits our organization to continuing to work with WHO and its constituencies in Member States to achieve these outcomes, as it does to achieve the overall goal of health for all.”