World Health Assembly Kicks Off in Geneva

Every year health ministers and members of the World Health Organization meet in Geneva for the World Health Assembly. The WHA, as it is known, is the governing body of the World Health Organization and it is at this annual meeting that priorities for the coming year are announced and decisions on WHO activities are taken by its members.

The 64th World Health Assembly kicked off yesterday with delegates appointed the Assembly’s president, Dr. Christos Patsalides, Director of the Ministry of Health for Cyprus, as well as five vice presidents from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Trinidad and Tobago, representing their respective regions.

WHO Director-General offered an opening address to the Assembly that provides a  snapshot of the state of the global health today. In her address, the Dr. Chan highlighted unprecedented progress, such as under-five childhood deaths at their lowest in more than 60 years, and a 60 percent drop in maternal mortality in two regions. Dr. Chan spoke of difficulties stemming from the global financial crisis and skyrocketing food and fuel prices. She commended UN agencies, countries and public and private partners for their hard work in saving lives from preventable and treatable diseases in the face of these challenges. Urging her colleagues to keep up their momentum Dr. Chan stated “any form of complacency at this point would be deadly.”

You can read a transcript of Dr. Chan’s remarks here. At a press conference earlier today, Dr Chan warned of budget cuts to the agency, principally because of a weak U.S. dollar. (The WHO receives contributions in US Dollars, but pays staff in the Swiss Franc.)

Bill Gates is delivering a keynote today, which will focus on increasing access to vaccines.

Stay tuned for more updates from the WHA.