Ebola, Ending Malaria, and Everything Else from the WHO’s World Health Assembly 2015

By Anna Dirksen, PSI Consultant

The 68th World Health Assembly ended yesterday at World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva. More than 3,000 delegates from WHO’s 194 Member States — including a significant number of the world’s health ministers — participated in the meeting, where they debated a wide variety of health policy topics.

The discussions touched on a wide variety of issues ranging from universal health coverage to vaccination campaigns, but here are a few of the outcomes that caught our eye:

Malaria

Member States agreed on a new Global Malaria Strategy for 2016-2030. The strategy targets a 40% reduction in the global malaria disease burden by 2020 and a 90% reduction by 2030. It also sets a goal of completely eliminating malaria in at least 35 new countries by 2030.

PSI is the largest distributor of mosquito nets worldwide and a leader in the field of rapid diagnostic testing and treatment. These efforts, alongside other vector control measures and seasonal malaria chemoprevention already led to a 47% drop in the global mortality rate between 2010 and 2013. The new strategy builds on this success via a three-pronged approach: ensuring universal access to malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment; accelerating efforts toward elimination and attainment of malaria-free status; and strengthening malaria surveillance.

Antimicrobial resistance

Equally important for those interested in malaria and other infectious diseases is the focus the World Health Assembly placed on antimicrobial resistance. On Monday, the Assembly endorsed a global action plan that covers resistance to antibiotics and other drugs used to treat diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

This is an issue of particular concern as many recent improvements in global health are now under threat because of resistance to a wide range of medicines commonly used. In parts of the Greater Mekong subregion, for example, resistance to the best available malaria treatments, artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), has already been detected. In general, drug resistance means doctors are having to use “last-resort” medicines that are often more costly and less likely to be available or affordable in low and middle income countries.

The action plan sets out 5 objectives: 1) improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance; 2) strengthen surveillance and research; 3) reduce the incidence of infection; 4) optimize the use of antimicrobial medicines; and 5) ensure sustainable investment in countering antimicrobial resistance. The plan requires that all Member States have a national antimicrobial action plan in place by 2017, in line with the global action plan.

Emergency response

In her opening remarks to the Assembly, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan acknowledged the challenges her agency, and the global community at large, faced in responding to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Over their working weekend, the Assembly made a series of decisions that structurally reform the WHO to help it better respond to emergencies and disease outbreaks.

The WHO will create an emergency program that will emphasize “adaptability, flexibility and accountability, humanitarian principles, predictability, timeliness and country ownership”. The WHO will now also set up a US$100 million contingency fund to help finance a coordinated WHO response to future health emergencies like Ebola. The fund will initially run as a two-year pilot, with a thorough evaluation to follow.

Maternal and child nutrition

In 2012, the WHA adopted a comprehensive implementation plan on maternal, infant and young child nutrition. Part of this plan called for the development of a monitoring framework to improve accountability and inform the design of nutrition surveillance systems through a set of indicators.

During this Assembly, Member States agreed on some of those indicators, which include monitoring: the prevalence of diarrhea in children under five; the proportion of a given population using safe drinking water and sanitation services; and the proportion of mothers of children under 23 months who received breastfeeding information, counseling or support in the past year.

To find out more about the other items discussed during the World Health Assembly, visit the WHO website.

Photo Credit: WHO / Oliver O’Hanlon