World Health Assembly
The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the forum through which the World Health Organization (WHO) is governed by its 194 member states. It is the world's highest health policy setting body and is composed of health ministers from member states.
The members of the World Health Assembly generally meet every year in May in Geneva, the location of WHO Headquarters. The main tasks of the WHA are to decide major policy questions, as well as to approve the WHO work programme and budget and elect its Director General.
Members and observers
In addition, seven agencies have observer status at the WHA - the Vatican, the Palestinian Authority, the Order of Malta, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and The Department of Health of the Republic of China, commonly known as Taiwan, was invited on 28 April 2009 to participate in the WHA 2009 as an observer for the first time since losing its China seat in United Nations to People's Republic of China in 1971. The invitation was extended to "the Department of Health, Chinese Taipei."
The main international policy frameworks adopted through WHA resolutions include:
- International Health Regulations
- International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, adopted in 1981
- Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, adopted in 2003
- Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel, adopted in 2010
In addition, the WHA has endorsed through resolutions a number of WHO action plans dealing with different areas to improve health around the world, such as:
- Worldwide eradication of smallpox, first endorsed in 1959, and then declared to have been won in 1980
- Worldwide eradication of polio, first endorsed in 1988, recently re-affirmed in 2011
- Control of human hookworm infection through regular deworming of at-risk school children, endorsed in 2001
- WHO global action plan for workers' health, endorsed in 2007
- Control of harmful use of alcohol, endorsed in 2010
- Enhanced global actions for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, endorsed in 2011
The WHA is also responsible for the endorsement of the WHO Family of International Classifications, a series of internationally standardized medical classifications, including the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF).
2014: Sixty-seventh WHA
The 67th WHA takes place in Geneva on 19-24 May 2014. Among the topics to be covered include the timing of the destruction of variola virus stocks; and a global monitoring framework for maternal, infant and child nutrition.
2013: Sixty-sixth WHA
In her address to the 66th WHA in May 2013, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan traced a brief history of revisions to the International Health Regulations following the SARS outbreak in 2002-3, the "first severe new disease of the 21st century." She observed that the two new diseases WHO is dealing with in 2013 are the novel coronavirus (MERS), from the same family as SARS, detected in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, and the first-ever human infections with the H7N9 avian influenza virus reported in China in 2013.  She attributed the positive report by the World Health Statistics (May 2013) on dramatic improvement in health in the world's poorest countries from 1993-2013, to the emphasis placed on poverty alleviation by the Millennium Development Goals. She announced the emergence of global action plans for noncommunicable diseases, mental health, and the prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment calling for a life-course approach which includes "equity through universal health coverage," preventive strategies and "integrated service delivery."
Dr Margaret Chan declared at the Assembly that Intellectual Property, or patents on strains of new virus, should not impede nations from protecting their citizens by limiting scientific investigations. Following the 2012 MERS outbreak in Saudi Arabia, Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish raised concerns that scientists who applied for a patent would not allow the MERS-coronavirus to be used for investigations by other scientists and were therefore delaying the development of diagnostic tests. Ten of the 22 people who died and 22 of 44 cases reported were in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia–based microbiologist Ali Mohamed Zaki reported the first known case, a 60-year-old Saudi man who got sick in June, 2012 on ProMed-mail, a public health on-line forum  then published more details including the virus’s genetic makeup and closest relatives. The Erasmus Medical Center "tested, sequenced and identified" a sample provided by Ali Mohamed Zaki.  Erasmus MC and Dr. Zaki strongly refuted all allegations concerning a presumed lack of willingness to cooperate in research into the new MERS coronavirus, making diagnostic tests and virus specimens freely available to all research institutions around the globe.
2012: Sixty-fifth WHA
Among other actions, the 65th Assembly endorsed the Rio Political Declaration to address the social determinants of health, intended to spearhead support for all countries to adopt inclusive ‘Health For All’ approaches to health promotion. It also endorsed the first World Immunization Week.
Notes and references
- World Health Organization. World Health Assembly. Geneva. Accessed 21 June 2011.
- WHO. Working for health: an introduction to the World Health Organization. Geneva.
- WHO. Countries. Accessed 27 October 2011.
- Beijing may help Taipei in WHO role. Posted by China Daily, 2009-03-26.
- Taiwan invited to attend World Health Assembly. Posted by The China Post, April 29, 2009.
- WHO. Milestones in the eradication of smallpox. Accessed 21 June 2011.
- WHO. Poliomyelitis. Accessed 21 June 2011.
- WHO. Sixty-fourth World Health Assembly closes after passing multiple resolutions. Geneva, 24 May 2011. Accessed 21 June 2011.
- World Health Organization, WHO Advisory Committee on Variola Virus Research: Report of the Fifteenth Meeting. Geneva, Switzerland, 24–25 September 2013. Accessed 9 April 2014.
- World Health Organization, Informal consultation with Member States and UN Agencies on proposed set of indicators for the Global Monitoring Framework for Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition. Accessed 9 April 2014.
- Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (20 May 2013). WHO Director-General addresses the sixty-sixth World Health Assembly (Report). Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization (WHO). http://www.who.int/dg/speeches/2013/world_health_assembly_20130520/en/index.html.
- Saey, Tina Hesman (27 February 2013). "Scientists race to understand deadly new virus: SARS-like infection causes severe illness, but may not spread quickly" 183 (6). Science News. p. 5.
- Ali Mohamed Zaki et al. (8 November 2012). "Isolation of a novel coronavirus from a man with pneumonia in Saudi Arabia". New England Journal of Medicine 367: 1814. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1211721.
- Heilprin, John (23 May 2013). The Associated Press (AP), ed. "WHO: Probe into deadly coronavirus delayed by sample dispute". Geneva: CTV.
- Erasmus MC, Erasmus MC: no restrictions for public health research into MERS coronavirus. Rotterdam, 24 May 2013.
- WHO. 65th World Health Assembly closes with new global health measures. Accessed 9 April 2014.
- World Health Organization, World Immunization Week essentials. Accessed 9 April 2014.