As the World Health Assembly draws to a close in Geneva this week, and Margaret Chan accepts her appointment to a second five-year term as director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), an editorial and an opinion piece examine the future of the U.N. health agency. Summaries of these pieces appear below.
UNAIDS and PEPFAR recently brought together the ministers of health and representatives of the 22 countries with the most new HIV cases among children to discuss progress on the Global Plan towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and Keeping Their Mothers Alive agreed to at the 2011 U.N. High-Level Meeting on AIDS, according to a UNAIDS press release. Though “great strides have been made in reducing HIV infections among women of reproductive age and expanding access to antiretroviral therapy for pregnant women living with HIV, … progress is not being scaled up as quickly on meeting the family planning needs of women living with HIV, preventing maternal mortality and ensuring that all children living with HIV have access to antiretroviral therapy,” according to UNAIDS. “The meeting was the first annual face-to-face gathering of representatives from the 22 focus countries since the launch of the Global Plan,” the press release notes (5/23).
“As the nations of the world attend the World Health Assembly in Geneva this week, the World Health Organization is in a budget crisis and continuing to struggle for relevancy among better-funded, more agile philanthropic foundations and disease-specific initiatives,” Thomas Bollyky, senior fellow for global health, economics, and development at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), writes in this CFR expert brief. “Survival for the institution is possible, but only if WHO reinvents itself as a twenty-first century international institution that can adapt to changing global health needs and thrive in austere times,” he writes (5/23).
“A global initiative to rid the world of polio launched an emergency action plan on Thursday because gaps in funding and vaccination coverage threaten to derail a final push towards stamping out the paralyzing disease,” AlertNet reports (Rowling, 5/24). “Despite the dramatic drop in polio cases in the last year, the threat of continued transmission due to funding and immunization gaps has driven the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to launch an Emergency Action Plan,” a GPEI press release states. “‘Polio eradication is at a tipping point between success and failure,’ said Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization,” the press release states. “We are in emergency mode to tip it towards success — working faster and better, focusing on the areas where children are most vulnerable,” she added, according to the release (5/24).
“The World Health Assembly [on Wednesday] appointed Dr. Margaret Chan for a second five-year term as Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO),” a WHO press release reports (5/23). This will be the second consecutive term for Chan, who was first elected in November 2006 and “was the sole candidate nominated ahead of Wednesday’s election,” Agence France-Presse notes. According to the news service, “the WHO said [Chan] received the backing of 88 percent of members who voted” (5/23).
U.N. SG Ban Praises Commission On Life-Saving Commodities, Says More Effort Needed To Improve Maternal, Child Mortality Rates
At the opening of the U.N. Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the commission but “said that much remains to be done to save the lives of the 800 women and more than 20,000 children who die every day from preventable causes,” the U.N. News Centre reports (5/22). Devex notes that the commission “aims to increase access to lifesaving medicine and health supplies, … includ[ing] oxytocin, which helps stop bleeding among mothers after giving birth, and antibiotics such as amoxicillin, which treats pneumonia among newborns.” The commission finalized its recommendations on Tuesday, the news service notes (Ravelo, 5/23).
IRIN examines the WHO’s regulatory approval process for making evidence-based recommendations, noting, “Governments will generally not implement an intervention without the WHO stamp of approval.” The news service writes, “No matter how compelling, medical research has historically not guaranteed swift regulatory approval, but researchers are finding ways to speed up translation of their conclusions into policy.” The news service cites the WHO’s recommendations regarding the use of insecticide-treated bednets in 2007 and the administration of seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) in children in sub-Saharan Africa in 2012 as examples. “Similarly, scientists working on a malaria vaccine are optimistic that they will receive a WHO recommendation soon after trial results are reported in 2014,” IRIN notes (5/23).
“U.N. Development Goals for better drinking water have already been reached, but a closer look shows that the measures fail to truly account for the lack of access to safe water,” Scientific American reports in a feature story. “[J]ust because water is pouring out of a spigot does not mean that it is safe to drink,” the article states, adding, “In poorer areas, where infrastructure and sanitation are often much worse, even sources of water that have been ‘improved’ are frequently at risk for contamination by human and animal feces, according to recent analyses.” The magazine details a number of studies on the issue and concludes, “[W]hether there are 800 million or 1.8 billion people who lack safe water, the scourge of preventable deadly diarrheal and other waterborne diseases will continue to plague too many” (Harmon, 5/21).
“Opening the 65th annual World Health Assembly (WHA) [on Monday in Geneva], World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan said she sees a bright future for health development, despite financial crises that many countries are facing, which has shrunk support for many initiatives,” CIDRAP News reports. According to the news service, “Chan said the WHO can leverage its leadership role to make the most of small and wise investments” and that “[u]niversal health coverage is the best way to maintain health gains that have been made over the past decade” (Schnirring, 5/21). Focusing on innovations that bring social benefit rather than profit, as well as research and development into new treatments, also are important, Chan noted, Devex reports (Ravelo, 5/22).
The U.S. Government, through USAID, is providing $30 million in emergency assistance to people affected by conflict and food insecurity in South Sudan, United Press International reports. The money will be delivered through the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), according to a USAID press release, the news service notes (5/21). The money will help WFP position food supplies across the country before many of the roads become impassable because of the rainy season, according to the press release. “The U.S. Government is the largest supporter of WFP’s operation in South Sudan, and including this donation, has contributed more than $110 million in 2012 to WFP’s emergency operation in the country,” the press release notes (5/21).