IAPO Statements at 74th World Health Assembly, May 2021
The seventy-fourth World Health Assembly (WHA74) commenced on 24 May 2021 and concluded its sessions on 31 May 2021. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the event was held virtually under the theme “Ending this pandemic, preventing the next: building together a healthier, safer and fairer world.”
This year, WHA was of greater significance because global leaders came together to discuss specific decisions and resolutions to chart an effective strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to that, over 70 health issues were addressed such as mental health, patient safety, non-communicable diseases, antimicrobial resistance and so much more.
Due to IAPO’s official relations status with the WHO, we were able to deliver statements at the World Health Assembly. You can read all statements by non-state actors in official relations with WHO and below are the links to the four statements that IAPO delivered at WHA 74:
- Agenda Item 13.1 Global action on patient safety
- Agenda item 13.2 Political declaration on NCDs and Agenda item 13.3 Expanding access to effective treatments for cancer and rare and orphan diseases
- Agenda Item 13.7 Standardization of medical devices nomenclature
- Constituency Statement on Agenda item 17 and Agenda item 18
About the World Health Assembly (WHA)
WHA is the decision-making body of WHO and is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States. The WHA focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board and its main functions are to determine the policies of WHO, to appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget. The WHA is held annually in Geneva (Switzerland) but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be held virtually in 2021.
About the World Health Organization (WHO)
WHO is the health agency of the United Nations (UN), based in Geneva, Switzerland. WHO was established on 7 April 1948, a date that is now celebrated as World Health Day. Over the last 60 years, WHO has been working towards its objective of “the attainment by all people of the highest possible level of health”. WHO is the decision-making body which defines global health issues and creates policies which impact on regional decision-making and national health systems around the world. WHO is an important partner for many patient organizations because of its pivotal role in global health.
What is the role of WHO?
The core functions of WHO are to:
- Provide leadership and engage in partnerships to address international health issues.
- Support and promote health research and its dissemination.
- Produce health guidelines and standards.
- Develop ethical and evidence-based policy options.
- Provide technical support to enable countries to address public health issues.
- Monitor and assess health trends.
WHO forms policies which impact on health systems around the world. Through WHO’s coordination, national governments work together to address global health issues, including international responses to infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
WHO promotes the use of evidence-based tools and standards to help countries define their health policies and supports research programmes to help identify public health priorities. It has supported a number of international campaigns, including efforts to reduce the burden of NCDs, as well as providing technical support to countries on such issues. WHO is also responsible for the World Health Report, a leading international publication on health, and the World Health Survey.
How is WHO structured and governed?
WHO’s membership is made up of 194 countries, known as Member States, and two Associate Members. They meet every year in May at the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of WHO. WHO is overseen by a Director-General who is elected every five years by the Health Assembly. Their work is supported by the 34 Members of the Executive Board who are elected by the Health Assembly and meet twice a year in January and May. The main function of the Board is to put into effect the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly. WHO employs a secretariat of over 8,000 people from all over the world, who work for WHO in 147 country offices, six regional offices and at the headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
WHO has a commitment to working collaboratively, stating that: “Only through new ways of working and innovative partnerships can we make a difference and achieve our goals.” WHO works with a range of partners, including UN agencies, donors, non-governmental organizations, WHO collaborating centres and the private sector. It is under the category of non-governmental organizations that patient organizations are recognised (assuming that they are non-governmental).
The WHO’s Declaration of Alma-Ata in 1978 identified primary healthcare as the key to addressing global health needs through guiding values and principles. Principle IV of the WHO Alma-Ata Declaration states that: “The people have the right and duty to participate individually and collectively in the planning and implementation of their healthcare.”
What can WHO gain from working with patient organizations?
Patient experiences make an invaluable contribution to global policies and the implementation of these policies within countries. WHO can benefit from working with patient organizations in a number of ways, including:
- Ensuring that policies reflect patient and care giver needs, preferences and capabilities.
- Filling the evidence gap on how health works best for people in middle- and low-income countries.
- Advocating for WHO standards, e.g. the Patient Safety ‘Clean Your Hands’ campaign.
- Identifying how to measure and monitor effective patient participation and engagement for health globally.
- Utilising established networks and communication channels which have been created to engage all healthcare stakeholders and communities.
How can patient organizations benefit from working with WHO?
WHO’s pivotal role in global health, as well as its extensive expertise, makes it a powerful ally for patient organizations. By working in partnership with WHO, patient organizations can:
- Raise awareness of a health issue.
- Provide and gain technical expertise in guidelines and practices.
- Develop research statistics and an evidence-base to support advocacy campaigns.
- Build understanding and support for a patient-centred approach to healthcare within WHO.
Joint activities between patient organizations and WHO are wide and variable, ranging from gaining recognition for a global health issue to producing a joint publication at international level, to involvement in a prevention or treatment programme at country or regional level.
The recognition by WHO of a healthcare issue as global can be instrumental in gaining the visibility and support which patient organizations need to achieve their mission. When a healthcare issue is recognised by WHO through the adoption of a resolution at the WHA, Member States have agreed to and made a commitment to this resolution. This can provide patient organizations with vital support where it is an issue of relevance to their mission. Patient organizations can stress to national governments commitments made at WHO and outline the invaluable contribution which they can bring to fulfilling these commitments and defining a national strategy.
Recent resolutions adopted on NCDs and viral hepatitis have created global recognition for these diseases and built momentum to help prevent and manage these diseases across the world. They have provided a platform for further engagement between WHO and Member States with patient organizations for joint action to tackle these issues.
How can patient organizations engage with WHO?
Patient organizations are an essential partner in ensuring that technical programmes, as well as policies, meet the needs of the people that they are intended to serve. Joint action can be extremely effective in:
- Generating and disseminating research.
- Implementing best practice guidelines and checklists.
- Creating ethical and evidence-based policy.
- Building capacity to meet healthcare needs within countries.
- Monitoring and assessing health trends.
IAPO working with WHO
IAPO has had official relations status with WHO since 2007, coordinated through their Patients for Patient Safety work. This grants us certain privileges, including attending and making interventions at the WHO Executive Board Meetings, the World Health Assembly, and the Regional Committee meetings. These meetings are attended by high level delegates from around the world, including Ministers of Health, WHO regional directors, and representatives from a range of non-state actors, such as academics, philanthropists, industry representatives and civil society. It is therefore a key networking and advocacy opportunity.