World Health Assembly meets in Geneva |

Status: 05/22/2023 05:13 am

The annual conference of the World Health Assembly takes place in Geneva under the motto: “Saving lives – promoting health for all”. But the organization is still a long way from the postulated goal.

Kathrin Hondl

The opening song of the World Health Assembly came from hundreds of nurses from around the world. An encouragement song, because the challenges are enormous – the world is still a long way from the major goal of the World Health Organization WHO “health for all”.

“Huge disparities in healthcare remain between and within countries,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. And UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also warned in a video message: “Progress is in danger.” According to Guterres, millions are threatened by wars and conflicts. The climate crisis is endangering the health of billions of people.

WHO chief Tedros delivers a keynote address to the World Health Assembly today.

Pandemic setbacks

The Covid19 pandemic brought regression in the healthcare system. In addition, according to WHO Director-General Tedros, there are institutional challenges for the World Health Organization: expectations of the WHO have grown enormously over the past 20 years, but not the funds.

According to the WHO, at least 20 million people worldwide have died in connection with the pandemic.

At around three billion dollars, the WHO annual budget corresponds to that of a large city hospital like the Charité in Berlin. And just under 15 percent of the funds are compulsory contributions from the member states – the large remainder are voluntary and often earmarked donations from countries and private foundations.

That has to change, Julia Stoffner from the aid organization “Brot für die Welt” demands in Geneva from the address of the federal government: “This means that Germany should work towards increasing the compulsory contributions and that the voluntary contributions that Germany pays the World Health Organization is doing, staying at a high level.”

NGOs are demanding more say

The World Health Assembly is the highest body of WHO. Here, the 194 member countries decide in consensus what to do in promoting global health. But not only governments, but also voices from civil society should be heard more in Geneva, says Andreas Wulf from the aid organization medico international: “Internationally, we’ve seen for years that the space we have in the debates with our own statements is increasing goes back: It used to be three minutes per statement, then two minutes, now it’s just one minute.”

The top floor of the WHO signals understanding – after all, health is about people, not about countries. “We can not only talk to governments, but we also have to do the speeches for which these things are then made,” says Rüdiger Krech, WHO director for health promotion. You don’t have to talk about people, but with people. “We have to implement that better in the WHO.” But that too can ultimately be decided by the member states alone, according to Krech: “It is a political decision: ‘How do we want to do global health work in the future?’

Health is also a question of power

The political explosiveness of the beautiful WHO promise “Health for all” can be seen in who is allowed to have a say and who is not: it is a question of power. “Taiwan has to be in the WHO,” demanded the demonstrators who marched through the UN district in Geneva over the weekend. China has so far successfully prevented this.

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