This year’s World Health Assembly was held online, with two representatives from the WSO Global Policy Committee as registered attendees (Bo Norrving and Patrik Michel). As announced by the WHO, the Assembly was shortened to two days and was entirely dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WHO adopted a comprehensive Resolution on the response to COVID-19, which stressed that it is just important to maintain health care for non-COVID-19 problems as it is to respond to the current pandemic. This concerns particularly non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including stroke because they constitute the largest burden of disease worldwide. Also, patients with chronic conditions and non-communicable diseases are clearly at higher risk of severe illness or death from the virus. Therefore, routine chronic care and prevention should continue on a high level, as stressed by a Statement of the WHO Civil Society Working Group on NCDs that includes the WSO.
In fact, neglecting usual care and prevention in these times has a high risk of collateral damage to patients with, or at risk of stroke, neurological and cardiovascular diseases. This was also stressed in a Statement of the Global Coalition for Circulatory Health where the WSO is a member.
Furthermore, the WHO Resolution emphasized the use of digital technologies for the response to COVID-19 and the need for extensive immunization against COVID-19. It finally called for sustainable funding of the WHO and for its strengthening so it can coordinate the COVID-19 response. With this resolution, an overwhelming majority of UN-member states support the WHO and its important work, in opposition to the attitude of the USA who is threatening to permanently halt WHO funding because of its handling of the crisis. This attitude has been considered non-constructive and counterproductive by many other nations. It in particular threatens the WHO’s ability to support low and middle-income countries who look for and depend largely on the WHO to act against COVID-19 and on other communicable and non-communicable diseases.
The WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros also agreed to an independent and comprehensive evaluation of the organization’s COVID-19 response in order to review the experience gained and lessons learned.
It seems to us that the WHO is responding to this threat to global health in a much more effective way than in similar situations in the past. This is in part due to lessons learned from the Ebola epidemic several years ago in Western African countries.
The WSO stressed in all meetings and in a recent Leading Opinion that acute and chronic care for stroke and other non-communicable diseases cannot be limited because the impact for patients and the backlash to the health systems and society are unacceptable.
Patrik Michel and Bo Norrving
for the WSO Global Policy Committee