World Health Assembly 2019–Highlights from the opening address of WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom

  1. There is encouraging progress in implementing Universal Health Coverage (UHC), including in:  Kenya, India, Greece, South Africa, the Philippines, El Salvador and Egypt. UHC is the crucial element in WHO’s ‘triple billion’ strategy. 
  2. UHC cannot be achieved without strong primary health care (the Astana Declaration, endorsed by 194 countries in 2018). Fundamental challenges in primary health care include vaccines for all, and the global shortage of 18 million health workers.  This requires investment in the health workforce and spread of free-to-user health services.
  3. List of successes in 2018, which included the world’s first malaria vaccine, strategy to eliminate cervical cancer, the first Essential Diagnostics List, the first guidelines on digital health, an interagency report on antimicrobial resistance, the first global air pollution conference, trans fats elimination targets, and much more. Dr Tedros emphasised the need for action to follow the talk. 
  4. Major concern over the current Ebola outbreak in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, already one of the world’s most dangerous places. Investment is needed to prevent emergencies, not just respond to them.
  5. WHO reforms aiming at ‘one WHO’ operating model: new processes, new culture and a new approach to partnerships.
  6.  Three takeaway messages:
    • Health is about political leadership: delegates were urged to ensure that national political leaders attend the high-level political forum on Universal Health Coverage in September 2019.
    • Health is about partnerships: countries were urged to enable more flexible and predictable funding for WHO.         
    • Health is about people: not just resolutions but implementation. ‘The people of the world will hold us accountable’.