Impressions from the 71st World Health Assembly May 2018
Like each year hundreds of official state-representatives from around the world and some delegates from Non-State-Actors , including IAW, flocked together for this important assembly. This time Mr. Alain Berset, president of Switzerland, congratulated WHO for its 70th birthday in his opening address and pleaded for an intense global engagement for health for all. “Universal Health Coverage” UHC is a highly ambitious goal of the WHO 13th programme of work from 2019-2023:
“Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages” means
1 billion more people benefit from UHC,
1 billion more people are better protected from health-emergencies
1 billion more people are enjoying better health and well-being.
“Leaving no one behind” by targeting the UCH was often mentioned by the state delegates, but representatives of low income-countries explained their difficulties about implementation due to their lack of finances.
Healthcare being global cannot stop at national boundaries. Therefore many official speakers criticized a recent WHO decision which denied to Taiwan its former status as an observer at WHO.
The opening session of WHA was also overshadowed by the recent outbreak of the ebola disease in DR Congo. Many states voiced their concern but also expressed their gratitude that this time WHO was very prompt providing its professional help and necessary resources.
Unlike last year when I could join Seema Uplekar and Soon-Young Yoon this time I was the only representative of IAW. Thanks to an intensive mail-exchange with Gudrun Haupter and Seema we were in contact with each other at all times. At short notice I could get to know Mary Balikungeri, an IAW member from Rwanda, being in Geneva for the moment. Together we attended a conference about diabetes and obesity. We both want to stay in touch with each other. One morning I happened to see Esther Suter, an IAW Board Member. She was heading for a meeting at the UN.
After some unsuccessful and frustrating attempts to either attend meetings in fully crowded rooms or to follow rather meaningless panel-discussions I realized that I just had to try to make the most of the situation. So unexpectedly I attended a highly interesting meeting about WHO aligning its own health-goals with the UN agenda 2030.
This means more than ever an intersectional approach to global problems combining several of the 17 SDGs. The directors of three UN agencies (World Organization of Meteorology,
UN Environment and WHO) were talking about “Health, environment and climate change”.
As a specific topic they chose air-pollution. “Breathing a healthy air” became an overall slogan at WHA71. Both optimistic and pessimistic views on the future climate situation were voiced.
Dr. Tedros then brought in a typical medical way of looking at problems. His point was saying that we must give up the idea of repairing damages done by climate-impacts. Rather we should in advance invest in prevention. With good climate conditions we are also preventing diseases, mainly the ones caused by air-pollution. We must protect the vulnerable people. Especially women in development countries cooking in smoky kitchens are very much endangered by the effects of air-pollution. In the following general discussion I pointed out that improving this bad situation should be a priority issue.
WHO is organising a global conference on air pollution and health at UN headquarters in Geneva 30 October- 1 November 2018.
How can we best promote the goals of IAW the advocacy for women’s health rights at WHA? As mentioned before the new IAW project “Water and pads for school-girls” fits in perfectly into our collaboration plan with WHO. In fact, it soon turned out to be also a door-opener at WHA!
Often I was sitting in the cafeteria or staying in line for entering a conference-room and got in touch with people. Soon a conversation about health – human rights – women’s rights would start. Then I could elegantly hand out the paper with our IAW statement related to the water and pads project.
The answers were all excited and positive. These people said great thanks to IAW taking up such an important but often neglected issue. Spontaneously some of them would offer their help. We exchanged mail-addresses. The ones who had their laptops with them searched right away for the IAW website in the internet. I was really surprised about this unexpected interest.
Because also speakers of other NSA’s like me from IAW had to wait for a long time until it was their turn for their official appearance we had chances to exchange our ideas. Like me most of them wanted to deliver a statement on “WHO Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents Health (2016-2030)”.
In the meantime the representatives from many nations officially expressed their agreement with WHO until the delegate of USA had the floor. This woman strictly vetoed everything connected with family planning most explicitly abortion. We NSAs were shocked.
The conference was continued the following day. This time the Holy Seat (Vatican) strongly opposed the WHO strategy on family planning and ended by exclaiming one should never have a data-base on abortions, a crime!
Finally together with some other NSAs, I could deliver our IAW-statement.
Of course I pleaded for a better menstrual health management for school-girls and generally the full sexual and reproductive women’s rights.
Looking back at WHA 71 I think that besides presenting our IAW statement in public and on the WHO-website, the great point was the chance of networking with so many people who like IAW are engaged in defending women’s health rights.
Read the statement: WHA71_2018_IAW_NSA_Statement_A_12.3_A. .