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).
The sixty-sixth World Health Assembly May, 2013
In her address to the sixty-sixth World Health Assembly, Dr 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, 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."
Intellectual property (IP) should not impede scientific investigations
At their annual meeting in May 2013 WHO chief Margaret Chan declared that Intellectual Property, or patents on strains of new virus, should not impede nations from protecting their citizens by limiting scientific investigations. Following an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS, or NCoV virus, a novel coronavirus, which first emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012, 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. (http://www.erasmusmc.nl/perskamer/archief/2013/4164294/?lang=en)
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.
- 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.