At World Health Assembly, Concerns and Commitment

The World Health Assembly, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is the main governing body of the World Health Organization.


The 66th World Health Assembly (WHA) opened in Geneva, Switzerland on Monday with representatives from the 194 member states of the World Health Organization (WHO). The group convenes annually to make key decisions about the future policies and key directions of the WHO. This year, the delegates will focus on the challenge of how to ensure the place of health in the post-2015 generation of millennium development goals (MDGs), including MDG 5, improving maternal and child health and MDG 6, combating HIV, malaria, and other diseases.

Welcoming the Ministers of Health and delegates from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other United Nations (UN) agencies in her opening address, WHO Executive Director Dr. Margaret Chan struck a somber tone, saying that the threat from emerging and epidemic-prone diseases is ever-present.

“The debate on the place of health in the post-2015 development agenda continues to intensify,” Dr. Chan said. “The Millennium Development Goals strongly influenced resource flows. Competition among multiple sectors for a place in the new agenda is fierce – very fierce. I ask Member States to do everything they can to ensure that health occupies a high place on the new development agenda.”

However, she assured the gathering that efforts to reach the health-related MDGs have accelerated during the last thousand days of the program. She said that this is especially true for women’s and children’s health.

As delegates took to the podium, it became clear that there is significant support for universal health coverage as the overarching post-2015 health goal.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius, speaking on behalf of the Americas regional group, said that “the goal is universal health coverage” and that “access to health care is not an earned privilege - it is a right." She said that the U.S. government is working towards removing barriers to universal health coverage within the U.S., with the aim of promoting equitable access to health services and that all countries need to tackle the social, economic, and environmental determinants of health to ensure that “all people – even those at the margins of our societies -- have the full access to health coverage.”

She also stressed that the two major health priorities of the Obama Administration are ending preventable child deaths and creating an AIDS-free generation.

The E.U. delegation agreed, saying that the MDGs have helped to drive improvements around the world – though there is still work to be done – and that health should be a cornerstone of the post-2015 agenda. They said that health is a human right – and that it is also fundamental to sustainable growth and development, and simply “good economics.”

Delegations from the Africa region agreed on the importance of health, saying that it needs to remain a key goal in the post-2015 agenda, and many expressed support for universal health coverage. The Nigerian Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said that the Nigerian government itself is moving towards a system of universal and mandatory health insurance for all Nigerians.

The WHA will be meeting for the rest of the week, and while the support for universal health coverage as a goal of the post-2015 development agenda is clear, what this will mean for people in need of health services (including people living with HIV) will need to be debated at great length as the framework is hammered out over the next year. What is clear is that EGPAF must make the needs of the people and communities on whose behalf we work very clear in discussions going forward.

Eliane Drakopoulos is Public Policy and Advocacy Officer for the Foundation, based in Geneva, Switzerland.