4 things to watch as countries gather for the World Health Assembly – POLITICO


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The pivotal meeting on the global health calendar begins on Sunday with representatives from health ministries around the world traveling to Geneva to make decisions on health policy.

While much of the diplomacy will take place at receptions and private meetings, the first all-in-person World Health Assembly in two years is expected to pass several resolutions that will begin to shape how the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19. The WHA is the decision-making body of the 194 members of the World Health Organization.

But this will not be the defining moment in WHO’s history. Many back-to-back decisions, such as those on a pandemic treaty and changes to the International Health Regulations, will only happen years from now. Even issues that are likely to be agreed upon at the assembly, such as the future budget of WHO and timelines for budget increases, stretch the years into the future.

Helen Clark, co-chair of the Independent Pandemic Preparedness Group and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, said her message to health ministers at the assembly would be “don’t give up on the fight against COVID-19”. . Speaking at the launch of the panel’s report which found the world will take years to prepare for the next pandemic if it continues at the current rate, Clark said the assembly must “consider the whole situation of all the necessary reforms as one.”

With a 73-point agenda, it’s one of the busiest in the organization’s history, but POLITICO guides you through the four most important points to watch:

Preparing for the next pandemic

Right-wing media pundits claimed the World Health Assembly was the time for the WHO to make a huge power grab to give it sweeping powers over countries’ sovereignty. The reality is that the most controversial proposal – for a pandemic treaty – is not even on the assembly’s agenda.

What had to be taken into account were the United States’ proposed amendments to the International Health Regulations, a legally binding law that governs how countries are supposed to respond to health threats. The far-reaching proposal from the United States suggested giving the WHO more powers to share information from countries experiencing events that could endanger public health. But decisions on that are now set to be delayed, with countries agreeing to a watered-down proposal for procedural decisions on when changes to the regulations would come into effect.

The most substantive document that will be reviewed by countries is a report from the working group on strengthening WHO’s preparedness and response to health emergencies. This week, the group was still discussing the final version of the report and the actions they would like to see taken at the meeting. It is likely that all decisions contained in the report would focus on the IHR amendment process.

“There’s this emerging sense of the status quo that we need to reset,” said Eloise Todd, co-founder of Pandemic Action Network. “We hope that the connections and conversations [at the WHA] can build on the progress made at the Global Covid Summit and lead to a bit more joint thinking about how we restart that agenda, so that things like funding the WHO, like reforming the ‘OMS, like the RSI, are not pushed down the list, but actually started at the top.’

Ukraine

Russia’s war against Ukraine will probably be on the agenda. A draft resolution led by Ukraine and seen by POLITICO “condemns in the strongest terms the military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, including attacks on health facilities” and calls on Russia to stop these attacks and to protect medical personnel.

It is important to note that “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine constitutes exceptional circumstances”. It is a requirement under the WHO constitution for the World Health Assembly to potentially suspend a country’s voting privileges and the services a country is entitled to. The document raises the possibility of taking such measures against Russia if it continues to negatively affect health care in Ukraine.

If the resolution is proposed, it will probably have to be voted on by the members.

Fund the WHO

This is the constantly discussed and never resolved problem that plagues the WHO – by anyone’s standards, WHO’s core funding is woefully low and leaves the organization constantly on the back foot. Finally, there seems to have been some real movement here, but as usual, change isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

The Sustainable Financing Working Group has proposed an increase in country contributions to 50% of the core budget by 2030-2031. This means that the WHO would have a much larger share of its funding coming from regular country contributions rather than earmarked donations.

The signs look promising since the meeting of G7 health ministers on Friday. “WHO, which plays a vital coordinating role in global health, needs to be strengthened financially,” the German health ministry, which hosted the meeting, said in a statement. “The G7 wants to increase its assessed contributions by 50% in the long term so that the WHO can better exercise its leadership role.

Clinical tests

A proposal on clinical trials – originally from the UK and now co-sponsored by Argentina – is also expected to be on the agenda. As with the report on health emergency preparedness, the discussion went all the way. The draft resolution calls on countries to coordinate their research priorities and avoid duplication of trials. Some of the measures requested include mechanisms to ensure that test results are reported, including negative results; pre-publication results being shared with regulators and mandatory registration of clinical trials in a registry.

Louis Westendarp contributed reporting.

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