(By Meena Daivadanam, Emerging Voice from India)
The 65th World Health Assembly has come to a close and Margaret Chan has been re-elected for a second term. While the WHO secretary-general’s keynote address touched on the most important priorities for the next 5 years, she also focused our attention on three crucial issues: Universal Health Coverage, non-communicable diseases and the WHO reforms.
Chan projected the WHO as the embodiment of fairness in the 21st century and UHC as the ultimate expression of the same. According to her, it is the “single most powerful concept that public health has to offer” and “the anchor for the work of WHO as we move forward”. Powerful words indeed! We hope that the 2nd global symposium later this year will add further impetus to this growing momentum.
The 65th WHA also well and truly brought the issue of NCDs to the forefront. One of the major steps consisted in setting a target for reduction of premature mortality from NCDs by 2025. The resolution emphasized the importance of a multi-sectoral approach to tackle the four risk factors that the UN special summit in September 2011 resolved to focus on: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and unhealthy use of alcohol. So, we are likely to see an explosion of funding, research and advocacy activities related to NCDs, much more so than we have seen in the past – at least in a number of countries.
Finally, the matter of WHO reforms. A crucial issue if WHO is to successfully face today’s challenges and strengthen its position as the ultimate global technical and scientific advisory body and coordinating authority for health. Chan identified the crux of the problem: “The future of funding for international health development is uncertain” and “If we let down our guard, slacken our efforts, problems that are so close to being brought under control will come roaring back”. She also committed herself to transparency and accountability, two key watchwords in this process; and affirmed her commitment to these by holding herself accountable for the 22 commitments in her first election manifesto. We look forward to her “report card assessing how well WHO performed, under my leadership, in delivering on each of these promises” in June, before she officially completes her first term.
On this promising note, let me sign off with the hope that actions will speak louder than words before the next five years are through.