The 144th session of the WHO’s Executive Board (EB) took place from 24 January – 1 February 2019, as usual at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. The sessions spanned over 8 days with an agenda that was unusually full, and with a number of statements on several on the agenda items that risked to break the overall time frame of the meeting. Maximum time for individual statements had to be reduced, and the daily schedules had to be extended into the evening.
WSO was represented by Bo Norrving, Patrik Michel and Mia Grupper, who attended the executive board part of the time by personal attendance and part time by following the proceedings through webcast, applied for the 1st time for the Executive Board. At the WHO EB, NGO:s are placed on a balcony with only limited view of the meeting room, and far from perfect acoustics. Following the proceedings through the webcast actually had many advantages as the person speaking was on full screen, well heard, and well identified.
The Executive Board addressed several items that will be on the agenda for this year’s World Health Assembly in May. There was a follow up to the September 2018 UN High Level Meeting on prevention and control of NCDs with a proposal that the period of the current WHO Global Action Plans on NCDs and Mental Health should be extended from 2020 to 2030, to align them with the SDG 2030 agenda. The appendices of both action plans should be updated by WHO, in order to meet previously agreed targets to reduce NCDs by 2025 and 2030, and specifically to prepare a menu of effective policy interventions to promote mental health and wellbeing and reduce premature deaths from air pollution. WHO should in 2020 prepare a report on progress on the global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol and outline a way forward. The Executive Board also requested the WHO to provide more technical support to Member States in integrating prevention and control of NCDs and promotion of mental health into primary care services and in improving NCD surveillance, as well as to make more human and financial resources available to meet increasing demand for technical support for national NCD responses.
At the September 2018 UN High Level Meeting on NCDs, air pollution was recognized as a major risk factor for the NCDs, and a 1st Global Conference on Air Pollution was held in October 2018 organized by the WHO. The WHO has prepared a draft for a Global Strategy on Health Environment and Climate Change. The draft strategy outlines targets for 2023, calls for a transformational approach with increased resources, and recommends routine implementation of health impact assessment in different policy areas to ensure policy coherence. The report also echoes calls, for example from recent Lancet commissions on food systems and the obesity-malnutrition-climate breakdown syndemic, to shift to more sustainable and healthy diets. The session on climate changes and effects on health received a very large number of generally strongly supportive statements, many of which were iterative.
The WHO presented a draft roadmap on access to medicines, vaccines and other health products for 2019-2023 which tackles various barriers to access, including lack of regulatory and health systems capacity, weak supply chains, shortages and affordability, and proposes some approaches.
The WHO Director-General asserted the WHO’s mandate to work on intellectual property issues, together with WTO and WIPO, in response to a challenge from the US. Italy (EB member) called for a resolution at WHA72. The draft is expected to be updated on the basis of many comments and questions raised during the EB, ahead of the WHA.
There were discussions on the preparation for UN High Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage, that will take place on September 23rd 2019, which will be made definitive at the World Health Assembly in May. Apparently there were several difficult issues on the transformation into universal health coverage in some countries, and part of the negotiations took place behind close doors.
Also on the agenda was the finalization of the ICD 11, the preliminary version of which was released by the WHO in June 2018. The discussion at the executive board was planned to be the final one before the final approval of the ICD 11 at the World Health Assembly. However, two major issues were raised; the inclusion of gambling disorders as a new entity and the status of a section on traditional medicine. Widely different opinions were raised, and the issue was referred back to the ICD 11 team at WHO for further preparations. There were few specific comments on other ICD 11 issues and none related to the cerebrovascular diseases section. At the time this newsletter report is written, no news on the resolution on the two major issues above are available.
Bo Norrving participated at a roundtable discussion organized by NCDA and RESOLVE on elimination of trans fat from the food supply.
The WHO Executive Board provided many opportunities to network with other NGOs, and the WSO representatives met with colleagues from the World Heart Federation.
Bo Norrving, Patrik Michel and Mia Grupper
Achieving our vision of a life free from stroke is a task that WSO cannot achieve alone. We are committed to building our partnerships at the global, regional and national level to scale up and deliver improvements in prevention, treatment and support to reduce the burden of stroke.