The 73rd session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) was held remotely on May 18th and 19th. This year’s WHA focused exclusively on the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHA adopted a COVID-19 response resolution that had more than 130 co-sponsors and was endorsed by all Member States. The resolution calls on Member States to put in place a whole of government and whole of society response to COVID-19 that outlines both immediate and long term actions with a view on sustainably strengthening the health system and social care and support systems, preparedness, surveillance and response capacities as well as taking into account, WHO guidance, engaging with communities and collaborating with relevant stakeholders.
The resolution has language that is aligned with the work of the Self-Care Trailblazer Group. It calls on Member States to ensure national action plans are gender-responsive and to strengthen women’s participation in all stages of decision-making processes. The resolution calls on countries to maintain services for sexual and reproductive health and to leverage digital technologies for the response to COVID-19, paying particular attention to patient empowerment. The resolution requests the Director General to provide assistance to countries to ensure uninterrupted and safe provision of population and individual level services, including sexual and reproductive health.
Other areas of note with the resolution include requesting an independent and comprehensive investigation of WHO’s global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, determine lessons learned and to provide recommendations for global pandemic prevention. Additionally, the resolution called for universal, timely and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. The United States endorsed the resolution, with reservations and issued a statement opposing the part of the resolution that dealt with COVID-19 therapies. The US argued that the resolution would cut into pharmaceutical companies’ profits, violate patent protections, and discourage innovation.
In addition to this resolution the main actions from the WHA are as follows:
- A seven-member oversight committee reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) had “demonstrated leadership” in handling the pandemic and that its performance should be reviewed, but “not during the heat of the response” which they said could prove disruptive.
- President Donald Trump issued a letter on Monday, May 18th that threatened to permanently cut US funding to WHO if, “substantive improvements were not taken in the next 30 days”.
- China announced that it will provide $2 billion over a two-year period for COVID-19 response, with funding focused on low-income countries.
- Ten countries have been elected to WHO’s Executive Board for a three-year term. The ten countries elected are Botswana, Colombia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, India, Madagascar, Oman, Russia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.