At the 75th World Health Assembly (WHA75), against the backdrop of the pandemic that has caused the tragic loss of more than 6 million lives worldwide due to COVID-19 and the senseless suffering and death inflicted by Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, the United States and other countries came together to achieve significant milestones that will strengthen and reform the World Health Organization (WHO), improve global health and health security, and advance equity for all people. WHA75 was likely one of the most historic and consequential assemblies in the organization’s history. The most significant moments centered around global health security reform, sustainable financing of WHO and broader pandemic preparedness, support for Ukraine, support for inviting Taiwan as an observer, prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment (PSEAH), strengthening health systems, health and human rights, and discussion of non-communicable diseases.
Embodying WHA75’s theme of “Health for Peace, Peace for Health,” the international community came together to make clear there will be consequences for Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. In back-to-back votes on May 26, the WHA held an historic vote in favor of a Ukraine-led resolution, which focused on safeguarding technical global health cooperation and called on Russia to cease attacks on hospitals and healthcare facilities. Through the resolution, the Assembly called for WHO to provide an assessment of the direct and indirect impacts of Russia’s aggression on the health of the people of Ukraine, in the region, and globally by January 2023. Although Taiwan was not invited to participate as an observer to the WHA again this year, support for Taiwan’s participation at the WHA continues to build among WHO Member States.
WHA75 considered the final report of the U.S.-co-chaired Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response (WGPR). Countries decided to repurpose the current WGPR as a working group on the International Health Regulations (IHR), to guide discussions on proposed changes to those protocols. Countries also decided to amend the timeline to one year for when such changes to the IHR would take effect.
Since the 2005 revision of the IHR, the world has benefited from increased transparency, improved rapid information sharing and stronger response coordination required by the regulations. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and other recent public health emergencies revealed gaps and shortcomings. The World Health Assembly approved the U.S.-proposed resolution (with numerous co-sponsors) to amend Article 59 of the regulations to enable future amendments to enter into force more quickly. Importantly, the IHR amendment does not diminish U.S. sovereignty or the ability of Americans to make their own health care decisions, and claims in that regard are categorically false and dangerous. Through IHR amendments, the United States is focused on improving the use of publicly available data by WHO and Member States to ensure that all nations are informed of health security threats in a timely manner, and that WHO is equipped to provide recommendations on how to safely and effectively respond.
Additionally, WHA75 adopted a decision based on the work of the Working Group on Sustainable Financing which would support an aspirational increase in assessed contributions up to 50 percent of the base budget, implemented incrementally by 2030-2031. This aspirational increase, however, would have to correspond with concrete reforms to WHO governance and administrative functions.
In addition, the World Health Assembly included many substantive discussions on the need to finance pandemic preparedness in a much more sustained and durable way. Secretary Xavier Becerra headlined a side event with Indonesia’s Minister of Health Budi Gunadi Sadikin, WHO, and World Bank leadership that highlighted the important work of the G20 Joint Health and Finance Task Force, the progress toward a new Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF) on pandemic preparedness at the World Bank and linking in WHO and its universal convening power and technical guidance into the proposed new health and finance architecture in a meaningful way.
An equally important priority for the United States is the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment (PSEAH). The United States reiterated the need for WHO to take actions to prevent and address sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment (SEAH), further acknowledged support for zero-tolerance policies, requested that women be placed in all levels of WHO staffing, and once again urged WHO to hold all perpetrators accountable, as well as those who fail to respond effectively when SEAH allegations emerge. The United States proposed decision language requesting that WHO propose amendments to their oversight charter to implement term limits for the head of WHO’s Office of Internal Oversight Services and the Chief Ethics Officer.
Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs Loyce Pace provides United States Statement at the opening of the 75th World Health Assembly. Photo by Eric Bridiers.
WHA75 also adopted resolutions that will further essential strategies to ensure health systems strengthening and universal health coverage (UHC), directly aligned with Biden-Harris Administration priorities, including those on infection prevention and control (IPC) and human resources for health (HRH). The IPC resolution, which the U.S. co-sponsored along with 13 additional Member States, calls for national actions to prevent community acquired and healthcare associated infections, with a particular focus on actions in health facilities, and for WHO to draft a global strategy for consideration by WHA76 in 2023. The HRH resolution, on which the United States joined more than 100 cosponsors, calls on Member States to take key actions related to planning, financing, education, employment, and protections for the health and care workforce, with support from WHO. In further support of health equity goals, the United States organized a roundtable event with a small group of countries from multiple regions to discuss opportunities for collaboration in advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The Global Health Sector Strategies for HIV, Hepatitis and STIs (GHSS) were adopted by WHA75, which will complement the upcoming replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The United States joined a strong coalition of more than 50 countries, including the European Union and much of Latin America, to support the historic vote.
In addition, the World Health Assembly discussed a broad range of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) issues – including multisectoral and multistakeholder action, progress in cervical cancer and in mental health promotion, managing NCDs during health emergencies, and new strategies and plans on oral health, diabetes, neurological disorders, harmful use of alcohol, and obesity.
From integrating equity throughout efforts to strengthen global health security and address future threats, to addressing core global health priorities that have stalled or been undermined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to supporting stronger and more sustainable health systems, the United States is working to advance health and wellbeing, especially among those groups who have been historically marginalized and excluded. Throughout this historic World Health Assembly, the United States led a robust strategy to advance the Administration’s commitment to equity both as a matter of human rights and justice, and also as a strategic imperative to reduce poverty and promote economic growth, health, and political stability in the United States and around the world in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.