68th World Health Assembly Starts Today

The 68th World Health Assembly (WHA68) will take place from 18 to 26 May in Geneva. PHM health activists will participate through PHM’s initiative ‘Democratising Global Health Governance – WHO watch’. WHO Watch is a resource for advocacy and mobilisation and an intervention in global health governance. Resources related to the Watching the WHA68 can be found here.

Start of the Assembly 

Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, was invited to give the opening speech of the World Health Assembly.

She started her speech stating: “There is a saying from pre-Christian times that goes like this: before you speak, inform yourself. Before you get sick, make sure you stay healthy”. The quote set the stage for the further speech by unravelling a view on health as an individual responsibility.

Merkel came to promote the G7 in dealing with global health issues, because - so she said - it is first and foremost economically strong, but also has a very highly developed scientific expertise and “common values to share”.

The Ebola outbreak is, according to Merkel, an illustration of the increasing interdependency between countries, by which global health has become dependent of the health systems in a country. Paradoxically, she emphasized upon the responsibility of each country to develop its own health system. “Health and security are two sides of the same coin” and therefore countries need to respect international norms and standards, according to Merkel. With these strong and forceful words, it is clear that in stead of removing the pressure from weakened developing countries after the Ebola outbreak, she is pointing the finger at developing countries as the source of the world’s health problems.

The World Health Organization should be rendered more efficient, with a clear structure of command and establish a relationship with the World Bank. Resources of the pharmaceutical industry should be used and strong partnerships established.

She added that a global plan for antibiotic microbial resistance needs to be agreed upon by the Member States, in which antibiotics are purely used for medicinal use and no longer for any other purposes.

The German chancellor ended her speech applauding the effort of non-state actors in the response to the Ebola outbreak, thereby implicitly referring to the highly contested proposal of a Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors on the agenda of the Assembly; a proposal of which many fear that it will facilitate a corporate takeover of the WHO. But according to Merkel: “We should work together, not against each other. Everyone’s efforts are important, all efforts are needed”.

Merkel effectively used the WHO jargon to convince its delegates to accept old and new rivals in the global health arena, the World Bank and the G7. She made it clear that the WHO will have to go through reforms for efficiency and centralization, while opening up for private sector influences. The question remains, who will remain as the leader in global health.

WHO Watch

During the next few days, issues of crucial importance will be discussed, such as the reform of the WHO, WHO's response to the Ebola crisis, WHO's involvement in the follow up of the Second International Conference on Nutirtion, an evaluation and review of the effectiveness of the International Code on Health Workforce Recruitment, a Global action plan on vaccines, WHO's response to the spread of Anti-microbial Resistance and the use of intelectual property rights to comprimise legitimate access to generic medicines.

PHM activists have prepared their participation in a week long workshop last week. PHM statements and positions on various topics will be developed and shared on the ghwatch website. A comprehensive commentary was collectively developed and shared with country delegations a week ago (link here). To know more about WHO Watch follow the link here.

The watching team in Geneva includes: Daniel Amoun (Egypte), Claire Elise Burdet (Switzerland), Mohamed Gad (Egypte), Ornella Punzo (Italy/UK), Natalie Van Gijel (Belgium), Susana Barria (Global Secretariat, New Delhi), David Legge (Australia), Sebastian Saugues (movie maker, France), as well as many supporters in Geneva and across the world.