World Health Assembly

Live Report from the 68th World Health Assembly – #WHA68:

IPSF Involvement and Commitment to Global Public Health


Amy Howard and Clement Haeck

Amy Howard and Clement Haeck

In May we were fortunate to be able to travel as part of the IPSF delegation to Geneva, Switzerland. Together with nearly 30 other pharmacy students, we took part in the 68th World Health Assembly (WHA) held at the European headquarters for the United Nations (UN). The WHA is the supreme decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), bringing together delegations from all 194 WHO member states and several nongovernmental organisations to focus on the agenda prepared by the Executive Board in January. As one of only 202 non-governmental organizations designated with ‘official relations’ to the WHO,  IPSF has the privilege of sending delegates and delivering policy statements to member states at the WHA.  While in Geneva, the delegation attended daily committee sessions and side events focused on key public health issues such as health within the sustainable development goals, the Ebola outbreak, climate and health, emergency preparedness and the development of global health sector strategies for HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections.

WHO’s ambition to build resilient health systems and its response to emergencies

Dr. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and current chair of the G7, addressed

WHO delegates as the invited speaker at WHA68. She called for a new plan to deal with “catastrophes” like the recent Ebola outbreak. Chancellor Merkel paid tribute to all healthcare workers who safeguard human health worldwide urging them to “work together”. She pledged the G7 would focus on fighting antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and neglected tropical diseases as long as Germany holds the G7 chair. She emphasized the need for all countries to have strong and resilient health systems and highlighted the key role of health in sustainable development.

In her opening address Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director General, echoed Chancellor Merkel on the importance of building resilient health systems (the primary theme of WHA68) as well as defeating AMR. She urged delegates to ready themselves for the post-2015 development agenda and to ensure that health receives the attention and the resources it needs: “The goals are ambitious. Financing plans must likewise be ambitious but credible,” said Dr. Chan.DSCN5833

With the Ebola outbreak ongoing and the recent Nepal earthquake emergency, major focus centered on plans to create a new WHO programme for health emergencies. The WHO recently announced a merging of outbreak and emergency resources. Dr. Chan stated plans to complete these changes by the end of the year – “I have heard what the world expects from WHO,” said Dr. Chan. “And we will deliver.” Indeed, WHO has been widely criticised following its dismal performance at the beginning of the Ebola outbreak, especially due to weak leadership during the crisis. An independent panel reviewed this issue prior the WHA, identifying WHO weaknesses in response to global epidemics and concluded: “WHO does not have the operational capacity or culture to deliver a full emergency public health response.” For example, it took almost five months for WHO to declare the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” As part of the WHO restructuring to address future global epidemics, the Organization is also calling for a new $100 million contingency fund to boost response times and ensure prompt resource availability.

Issues of particular interest to IPSF on the agenda this year included preventing the spread of AMR, global plans to increase the access and affordability of life-saving vaccines, polio eradication, progress in tackling non-communicable diseases, the need to address adolescent health, efforts to meet the health-related Millennium Development Goals and the inclusion of health targets in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

IPSF delivered a statement on AMR stressing the importance of improving awareness and understanding of AMR, especially through the education of future healthcare professionals. Reiterating statements made previously in collaboration with IFMSA (International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations) and IVSA (International Veterinary Student’s Association), IPSF’s statement encouraged Member States to adopt the Global Action Plan on AMR including improved training of healthcare students making AMR a key component of their curriculum.  In the final hours of WHA committee work, the Global Action Plan was adopted.  Underscoring the importance of this landmark recommendation, Dr. Chan took a moment to express her happiness by breaking into song!

IPSF_at_CommAReflecting on this experience, we believe IPSF’s involvement during WHA can only grow from here. As the role of pharmacy expands more each year, IPSF should take every opportunity to help further the voice of future pharmacists. There is a critical need for the organisation to begin developing a comprehensive set of policy statements reflecting our membership’s perspective on global public health policy through the lens of pharmacy. We encourage all members to help IPSF mold statements that will be the collective voice of pharmacy students globally. How do you see the role of pharmacists in the collaboration with other healthcare providers? What public health agenda topics should pharmacist be advocating – women and children’s health, eradication of neglected tropical diseases, universal health care, affordable access to medications? Moving forward we hope to hear from all of you and ensure the world hears from IPSF.

Article by Amy Howard and Clement Haeck