The 71st World Health Assembly Begins in Geneva

Geneva, 21 May 2018 (PAHO/WHO) –The 71st World Health Assembly opened today in Switzerland, with a heavy agenda and commemorating the 70 years the World Health Organization (WHO) has been in existence.

In his plenary opening speech, the Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, highlighted WHO’s new General Programme of Work for the next five years. “[This] is not about reinventing the wheel. It’s about making a bigger impact than we already make. It is ambitious, as it should be. The vision set at our founding 70 years ago is not a modest vision. Our Constitution is not a modest document,” Tedros said.

“The eradication of smallpox stands as one of the greatest achievements not only in the history of WHO, but in the history of medicine. That’s what WHO is capable of. This is an organization that changes the course of history,” the Director-General said, listing all the actions taken by the organization in every area, including emergencies, response to chronic diseases, and other issues. He stressed the importance of having an impact where it counts the most: at the country level.

In this context, Dr. Tedros called on the Member States to be proactive in assuring “health for all,” the general subject of discussion selected for this year’s World Health Assembly. The president of Rwanda Paul Kagame was a special guest at the opening session, where he referred to his country’s achievements in the area of universal health coverage. “Achieving Universal Health Coverage is feasible for countries at every income level,” he said.

At the same ceremony, Dr. Tedros and the head of state paid homage to Carlos Urbani, a doctor who used to work for the World Health Organization, who discovered SARS and passed away from the disease in 2003 when he was treating patients.

The Region of the Americas calls for prioritizing universal health coverage and access When presenting the position of the Region of the Americas, the Canadian Minister of Health Ginnette Petitpas Taylor said that universal health coverage is one of the highest priorities for the countries she represents, and recalled that it was the first region to approve a strategy on this subject, which sets goals and addresses the challenges in each country. She recognized the progress made in achieving universal health coverage and maintaining the quality of services, and promised that the Americas would work with other regions to share these experiences.

Petitpas Taylor also said that the region adopted a Sustainable Health Agenda for the Americas 2030, based on the Sustainable Development Goals. “This is a call to action that urges us to work together to achieve the highest levels of health and wellbeing for our populations,” she explained. However, she warned, current challenges must be recognized, one of which is preventing a reemergence of diseases that have been eliminated, such as measles. “Now more than ever, it is crucial to protect our populations from preventable diseases, given the frequent movement of people throughout the regions,” she said. The minister added that another challenge is addressing  the factors that lead to noncommunicable diseases, having access to highcost medicines, and reducing maternal mortality. Petitpas stressed that all of these elements are key to ensuring access to medicines.

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