A civil society guide to the resumed session of the 73rd World Health Assembly, 9-14 November 2020

Updated and closed on 13 November

The World Health Assembly at a glance

  • WHA73 website (landing page): here
  • WHA Journal 5 (Friday 13 November): here
  • WHA73 live webcast: here or at the landing page
  • WHA73 documentation: here
  • Civil society statements: here

WHA73 will close one day early, on Friday, with final plenary
Follow the World Health Assembly on Twitter: #WHA73

Updated and closed on 13 November

Modalities of an almost impracticable World Health Assembly

  • A73/42, 7 November 2020: Special procedures
  • A73/INF./5, 7 November 2020: Decision-making and procedural issues on the virtual system. A practical guide 
  • Document sent out via e-mail only, on 6 November 2020: Additional modalities
  • A73/INF./6, 8 November 2020: Proposed modalities for the Seventy-third World Health Assembly (resumed)

On Friday, 6 November, WHA delegations were informed of new modalities introduced last Minute, “subsequent to the most recent Member State Mission Briefings deliberations”. These modalities will lead to a considerable reduction of speaking rights for Member States and other participants such as observers and intergovernmental organizations. All sub-items will be grouped and only one statement per delegation will be considered. This was confirmed on 8 November with document A73/INF./6,.

But how should this work in practice? Imagine the deliberations in Committee A on item 11 that includes 9 substantive and very diverse sub-items, provisionally scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. The conversation (or call it ceremony) will jump from cervical cancer to innovation and intellectual property, and back to NCDs or Tuberculosis, according to the prepared statements of the Member State delegations.

Or if a “non-state actor” wants to speak on agenda item 18.6 (Data and innovation: draft global strategy on digital health), an important matter drowned in a variety of sub-items to be dealt with by Committee B, in a “single discussion” to take place from Monday to Wednesday, they would have to stand by until the very end of the discussion (Tuesday? Wednesday morning? or later?) to deliver their input. Most probably this will be a meaningless waste of time, but at least, all delegations have a say…

According to the WHO Secretariat, these new modalities were “considered by Member States and exceptionally are proposed for the resumed session of WHA73. These should not be considered as setting a precedent for future Health Assemblies”.  However, we would expect a more rational steering of the World Health Assembly by its “Bureau”, and we have not found, in the rules of procedure for the WHA, any formal role for deliberations and decisions taken by Member State Mission Briefings.

No night-shifts, no public negotiations, no lobbying in the corridors
And WHA decisions taken via “written silence procedure”

World Health Assembly working hours are 10:00 to 13:00 and 14:00 to 17:00. “There shall be no evening sessions”. As the document

Already on 7 August, the WHO Secretariat published a communication on “73rd World Health Assembly Decisions” adopted via “written silence procedure” (here) and also added the related resolutions and decisions to the WHA documentation. Find these decisions and more on the related modalities in a particular section of this guide, below.

The “written silence procedure” will be applied further during the resumed session of the WHA. We will need to look at this more closely – and will provide an update when we know how this works.

Hoping for better times

All in all, the 73rd World Health Health Assembly will show that yes, for the sake of having resolutions and other decisions approved and the show (and the decision-making cycle) going on, a WHA can indeed be held in a “virtual” format, and that no, it does not really work.

We participated, in July, in an “online brainstorming on working methods of intergovernmental bodies under COVID-19” chaired by Maria Fernanda Espinosa, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly. Representatives of the UN System were keen to discuss technical fixes for decision-making in such “virtual” meetings of intergovernmental bodies, but, behind their optimism and actionism, there was a strong shared feeling that, if this goes on, all essentials of diplomacy and democratic multilateralism risk to get lost. Hoping for better times.

Civil society participation and statements

After our criticism of the arrangements for the Special Session of the WHO Executive Board in October (coverage: see below), it was good to see that the bad practice of not allowing oral “non-state actor” statements on technical agenda items and not even including written statements in the official records will not be repeated at WHA73.

The “practical information” received on 2 November state that both written and oral statements can be submitted by non-state actors and that oral statements will be considered in WHO’s official records: “Considering the specific arrangements set for the Seventy-third World Health Assembly, Non-State actors in official relations with WHO that have registered to participate may request to make statements through a dedicated video connection, during the meetings of Committee A and/or B of the World Health Assembly, under a technical item in which the non-State actor has a particular interest.” Thanks to the WHO Secretariat for having supported and promoted civil society participation in the resumed WHA73.

  • WHA73 invitation and practical information for “non-state actors”: Document NSAs WHA73.20.3
  • WHA73: Statements by non-State actors: here

Civil society participation in WHO Governing Bodies

Updated and closed on 8 November 2020

WHA issues and debates: Health Emergencies and Covid-19

After the first session of WHA73 in May and the Special Session of the WHO Executive Board in October fully focusing on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic (coverage: below), it is not so easy to find the pandemic and the debates on WHO’s role in health emergency – and related topics – in the agenda and documentation of the resumed WHA73. Here some initial entry points.

WHA Committee A will start its work with “pillar 2” (“One billion more people better protected from health emergencies”) of the WHA agenda.

New documents available
  • A73/10, 4 November 2020
    Looking back to move forward. Report by Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme
  • A73/INF./4, 5 November 2020
    Progress report from the Co-Chairs of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response
Of panels and papers

The “Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme (IOAC) was established in 2016, following the West Africa Ebola virus disease outbreak, to provide independent scrutiny of the implementation of WHO’s reform of its workon outbreaks and emergencies, and its ongoing health emergency management. Its report “Looking back to move forward” published ahead of the World Health Assembly concludes as follows: “In looking back at the genesis of the WHE Programme and examining its performance during the first few months of the COVID-19 outbreak, the IOAC confirms that the WHE Programme has achieved the milestones set in 2016, but it will be necessary for the Organization to undertake yet further reform to allow it to become the guardian of global public health. This, then, must be seen as a defining moment for global community health. The IOAC reaffirms its commitment to providing oversight and advice to ensure that the WHE Programme continues to progress in all its fields of work, both operational, technical and normative, to help allow WHO to fulfil its role in protecting the health of populations across the globe.”

Also the Co-Chairs of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response published their progress report, mainly with information about how they have started to get organized and functional. No substantive messages yet, nevertheless highly interesting and “must-read”. The panel’ will focus its work on four areas: (1) development of an authoritative chronology of how the pandemic unfolded; (2) methods to understand in detail the responses to the pandemic in a selection of countries representing a broad range of response contexts; (3) development of an international system ideally placed to deliver effective pandemic preparedness and response; and (4) consideration of the state of WHO and its response to COVID-19, including perspectives from country, regional and global levels and from actors inside and outside WHO. The Independent Panel “will provide an interim report to the Executive Board at its 148th session, scheduled for 18–26 January 2021. The report will update Member States on the progress of the Panel’s work and critical issues arising therefrom”. “Should it be deemed necessary, and should the Panel bring to light significant gaps in global responses, the Panel will not hesitate to call for urgent corrective action.”

The WHA will also consider a draft resolution already discussed by the WHO EB in February (EB146.R10) that  calls for” strengthening Member States’ preparedness for health emergencies”, such as COVID-19, through more robust compliance with the International Health Regulations (2005).

The IHR Emergency Committee on the pandemic met on 29 October to take stock of the evolution of COVID-19. Find the meeting statement here, with recommendations to both WHO Secretariat and State Parties that might be presented and discussed at the WHA. The WHA is also expected to discuss a first substantive report of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPR)

See also, below, section “The WHO reform case”

Updated and closed on 8 November

WHA politics: The WHO reform case

After the difficult “Special Session” in October (coverage: below) that showed a WHO Executive Board not able to exercise leadership, and with various proposals for a(nother) WHO reform in the pipeline, we will see how/if these matters are dealt with at/around the WHA.

The “virtual” or “hybrid” session of the World Health Assembly is a hostile setting for proper diplomacy. Anyhow, a (next round of) WHO reform should not only focus on emergency response and WHO financing (although both being highly relevant and urgent), but again look at governance shortcomings. A diifficult one because, as colleagues use to say, “global health governance starts at home”.

Background and updates: Start with this one

“Overarching institutional questions were discussed such as whether WHO has the right mandate for pandemic preparedness and response and the Director-General the relevant authority, whether the Organization has the right structure and capacity to deliver on its mandate, and whether the financing of the Organization is optimal. The Panel agreed that its consideration of WHO needs to address both what WHO should do, and what it should not do. The question of whether WHO is empowered to achieve its mandate is central. As well as examining WHO’s institutional functionality, the Panel suggested that it would also be important to look at governance issues. The Panel agreed that the functioning of WHO should be considered from a range of perspectives, including those of countries and of external actors. There was agreement that the consideration of WHO should range across the whole of its mandate and not just across the health emergencies programme.” (Progress report from the Co-Chairs of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, 5 November 2020)

Most recent papers and positions
Updated and closed on 9 November

WHA politics: The US case
(might be resolved now…)

No, we will not repeat here the coverage of the US Trump administration’s accusations, disgraceful campaigning and threats of withholding WHO funding in April and its later decision to leave the WHO. The resumed WHA73 takes place after the US elections. Strategic timing? New dynamics? New constellation? Yes, it looks so, at least if you look at all the enthusiastic Tweets after the confirmation of Joe Biden’s election on Saturday evening.

Perspectives
Tweets

All looking bright again, right? Some commenters just wonder if it really needs again “US leadership” (or EU leadership, see below), or rather solidarity, cooperation and compliance by everybody, based on democratic multilateralism and in a renewed and reconfirmed definition of global health and global health security as joint responsibility and public good.

Updated and closed on 10 November

WHA politics: The Taiwan issue

The WHA documentation includes a proposal for a supplementary agenda item on ““Inviting Taiwan to participate in the World Health Assembly as an observer” (A73/1 Add.2 ). See also the draft resolution published as “Background on proposed supplementary agenda item.

Background and media coverage
WHA deliberations and decisions

In May, as a result of “intensive consultation with the interested parties”, the President of the World Health Assembly stated, when introducing the WHA agenda, that the resolution requesting to invite Taiwan as an observer to the WHA would be dealt with only in the resumed session later in the year. So the agenda was adopted without an the additional item initially requested.

For the debate in the resumed WHA in November, let me quote the WHO media release published on the same day: “The WHA73 considered a proposal for a supplementary agenda item entitled “Inviting Taiwan to participate in the World Health Assembly as an observer”. The proposal was considered in accordance with an agreed process for a structured debate, known as a “two plus two” arrangement. Following this process, the WHA73 decided not to include this item on its agenda. This is the 15th time since 1997 that such a proposal has been submitted. In line with an analogous decision of the UN General Assembly, the World Health Assembly though resolution WHA 25.1, of 1972,  decided ‘(…) to recognize the representatives of its Government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the World Health Organization (…)’. This decision still applies, 48 years later. Although the question of Taiwanese membership in WHO and its participation in the World Health Assembly remains a question for Member States, WHO works with all health authorities who are facing the current coronavirus pandemic, including Taiwanese health experts.”

And to end with this one:

To be continued next year (episode 16).

Updated on 6 November

WHA side events

This mini-guide only include events that directly relate to the resumed 73rd World Health Assembly and its agenda and deliberations, and/or to the overall topic of health emergencies. Let us know if you organize an event that fits this requirement.

Thursday 5 November 2020
Backsliding or building beyond
Covid-19? An introduction to the resumed 73rd World Health Assembly
Global Health Centre, The Graduate Institute; UN Foundation
Event website: here – recording here

Tuesday 10 November 2020, 17.30 CET
Preparing democracies for pandemics. Emerging questions in view of COVID-19
Global Health Centre, The Graduate Institute; Council on Foreign Relations; and Geneva Office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung
Event website: here

WHO Executive Board: Special session on the COVID-19 response, 5 and 6 October 2020

The Special Session

“The Director-General, following consultation with the Board Chair, has called for an Executive Board special session on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response to follow up on the WHA73.1 resolution approved by Member States earlier in May. The meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss with Executive Board Member States the quick developments around the efforts to implement the strategic preparedness and response plan, as well as the actions taken to initiate the review by an independent panel.” (quoted from EBSS5 website)

Coverage

Schedule, main agenda items and documents

Day 1, Monday 5 October 2020, 12.00-19.00 CEST
Update on implementation of resolution WHA73.1 (2020) on the COVID-19 response

    • EBSS/5/2
      Update on implementation of resolution WHA73.1 (2020) on the COVID-19 response.

“This interim report is submitted pursuant to requests made to the Director-General by the Seventy-third World Health Assembly in resolution WHA73.1 (2020) on the response to coronavirus disease (COVID-19). It provides a brief summary of WHO’s activities since January 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and sets out the steps taken to ensure that appropriate lessons are learned and best practices are implemented as the pandemic evolves. Specifically, this report focuses on the requests made in paragraphs 9(1) to 9(10) of resolution WHA73.1 and follows the same structure. The full range of WHO’s activities on COVID-19 outside the scope of this report can be found on the WHO website.” (quoted from the interim report, page 1).

This interim report is quite technical. Strictly following the structure of paragraph 9 of Resolution WHA73.1, it provides summary accounts of the main activities, initiatives and structures set up or led by the WHO Secretariat in the Covid-19 response. This technical report was complemented by oral (accountability) statement by the Director-General and a a more technical update by Mike Ryan.

Day 2, Tuesday 6 October 2020, 12.00-18.00 CEST
Updates from the Co-Chairs of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and
Response, the Chair of the IHR Review Committee and the Chair of the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme

    • EBSS/5/3
      Update from the Co-Chairs of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response

“Pursuant to a further request made by the Health Assembly in resolution WHA73.1, the Director-General initiated work to set up an Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, appointing two Co-Chairs, who were mandated to independently select and appoint the members of the Independent Panel. The Co-Chairs will submit a written report on the initial work, together with an oral report from the first meeting with the Independent Panel, which took place 17 September 2020.” (quoted from the annotated agenda of EBSS5).

Website of the Independent Panel: here.

According to the annotated provisional agenda, the special session will also consider (oral?) “updates from the Chair of the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations (2005) during the COVID-19 Response and the Chair of the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme“.

A “hybrid” meeting

“The Director-General, following consultation with the Board Chair, has called for an Executive Board special session on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response to follow up on the WHA73.1 resolution approved by Member States earlier in May. The meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss with Executive Board Member States the quick developments around the efforts to implement the strategic preparedness and response plan, as well as the actions taken to initiate the review by an independent panel.” (EBSS5 website)

“The Special Session of the Executive Board will open on Monday, 5 October 2020 at 12:00 (CET) and close no later than Tuesday, 6 October 2020 at 18:00 (CET). The working hours will be 12:00–15:00 and 16:00–18:00 (CET). In light of the current global situation and following consultation with the Chair of the Executive Board, the Special Session of the Executive Board will be held using a hybrid format. Physical participation in the hybrid meeting will be limited to delegates of the Executive Board. In this manner, the Special Session of the Executive Board will involve having the 34 members of the Board (or another member of the EB member’s delegation, such as a delegate located closer to the meeting venue) physically present with other delegation members, other Member States, and other participants, as appropriate, participating through the virtual platform.” (source: invitation letter to non-state actors; see also)

…with virtually no space/voice for civil society

“Considering the specific arrangements set for the Special Session of the WHO Executive Board, non-State actors in official relations with WHO have the exceptional possibility to post written statements, under items 3 and 4 of the provisional agenda, in advance of the opening of the Special Session. To note, the written statements are posted for a limited time, and will not be retained on the website thereafter. Following consultation with Member States, all written statements may not be included in the official records.” (Source: Practical information for delegates of non-State actors in official relations with the World Health Organization, as attachment to invitation letter)

Already at the “de minimis” World Health Assembly in May, “non-state actors” were only allowed to submit written statements. For the special session of the EB, two additional restrictions will make the NSA contributions even more questionable: They need to be posted ahead of the opening of the special session (therefore not allowing us to take up oral statements by the DG and EB members), and, in particular, they will not be included in the official records of the meeting.

So, contrary to any statements of the WHO secretariat about the need to strengthen their engagement with civil society in the Covid-19 response and beyond, and after a long process of debating civil society involvement in WHO the governing bodies, NGO participation in the WHO Executive Board has been reduced to tokenism. It will be interesting to see how many NGOs will accept these new “rules of the game”, for the sake of having at least a bit of temporary visibility on the WHO website and for being able to report back to their home audience… All in all, these are dire perspectives for the upcoming resumed World Health Assembly in November.

We hope that the civil society dialogue with Dr Tedros on 13 October on “Social participation and accountability within and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic” (see here) will allow us to address the very concrete issues related to the challenge that we have framed as follows: “In its own fields of work and related institutional processes and arenas, WHO to consistently deal with civil society engagement as a matter of social participation and accountability”.

Report and comment by Thomas Schwarz, MMI Network, an NGO in official relations with WHO

73rd World Health Assembly:  Decisions taken via “written silence procedure”

The Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) have adopted a number of decisions to advance global public health that had been proposed to the 73rd World Health Assembly in May 2020, via a “Written Silence Procedure”. 

The written silence procedure is outlined in WHA73(7)

Strengthening global immunization efforts to leave no one behind

The Immunization Agenda 2030 strategic proposal envisions a world where everyone, everywhere, at every age, fully benefits from vaccines to improve health and well-being. The key goal is to extend the benefits of vaccines to everyone, everywhere. The strategy is people-centric, led by countries, implemented through broad partnerships and driven by data. It systematically applies these 4 core principles across a set of key priorities, highlighting that immunization is an investment for the future, creating a healthier, safer and more prosperous world for all.

Vaccines are available to prevent more than 20 life-threatening diseases, helping people of all ages live longer, healthier lives. Immunization currently prevents well over 3 million deaths every year from diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza and measles; yet far too many people around the world – including nearly 20 million infants each year – have insufficient access to vaccines.

WHA73 agenda item 11.3
Documentation: WHA website and PHM WHO Tracker
Decision taken under silence procedure, 3 August 2020: Document WHA73(9)

Cervical cancer prevention and control

The WHO global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem establishes goals and targets for 2020 to 2030. It focuses on 3 key pillars: prevention through HPV vaccination; screening and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions; and management of invasive cervical cancer, including access to palliative care. All pillars must be pursued collectively to reach elimination.

To eliminate cervical cancer, all countries must reach (and maintain) an incidence below 4 per 100 000 women-years.  To get on the path to elimination, the strategy urges all countries to achieve the following targets by 2030: 90% of girls fully vaccinated (by 15 years of age); 70% coverage of screening with a high-performance test (once by the age of 35 and again by 45 years); and 90% of women who are identified with cervical disease receive treatment (90% of women with pre-cancer treated; 90% of women with invasive cancer managed). Achieving the 90-70-90 targets will yield impact on 2 fronts: we will see reductions in incidence and in mortality.  By 2030, the median cervical cancer incidence rate would fall by 10%, setting the world on the path to avert 70 million cases in the century.

Cervical cancer currently kills more than 300 000 women each year. The fourth most common cancer among women globally, its burden is greatest in low- and middle-income countries, where access to public health services is limited.

WHA73 agenda item 11.4
Documentation: WHA website and PHM WHO Tracker
Resolution adopted under silence procedure, 3 August 2020: Document WHA73.2

Tuberculosis research and innovation

The global strategy for TB research and innovation was developed to support efforts by governments and other partners to accelerate progress and to improve equitable access to the benefits of research in line with the commitments made in the WHO End TB Strategy, the Moscow Declaration to End TB and the political declaration of the United Nations high-level meeting on TB.

It highlights 4 major areas for action are highlighted in the strategy: creating an enabling environment for TB research and innovation; increasing financial investments in TB research and innovation; promoting and improving approaches to data sharing; and promoting equitable access to the benefits of research and innovation. The strategy also makes the case for a unified and aligned response in which key partners and affected communities support Member States by undertaking the investments and partnerships that are necessary for accelerating innovation.

The resolution requests WHO to report biennially, until 2030, on the implementation of the strategy.  The resolution calls for the support of the scientific community, international partners and other relevant stakeholders to undertake research and innovation aligned with the needs of the countries most affected by TB; to strengthen public-private partnerships; and to facilitate knowledge sharing. Furthermore, it calls on WHO to provide technical and strategic assistance to Member States in the implementation of the strategy.

WHA73 agenda item 11.5
Documentation: WHA website and PHM WHO Tracker
Resultion adopted under silence procedure, 3 August 2020: Document WHA73.3

Integrated people centred eye care

A new World Health Assembly resolution focuses on the need to integrate people-centred eye care services into health systems. The first ever WHO report on vision (published in 2019) predicts a substantial increase in the number of people with eye conditions and vision impairment in the coming years. The resolution highlights 4 key strategies for Member States to improve access to services and reduce inequities.  The first is to better engage people and communities by raising awareness of the importance of early identification of eye conditions and simplifying access to care for underserved populations. The second is to strengthen eye care in primary health care so people can access services closer to their homes. The third is to improve coordination of eyecare services with other health services and with other sectors such as education and labour. The final recommendation is to integrate eye care into national health strategic plans and universal health coverage schemes. Member States recalled that preventing and addressing vision impairment not only improves quality of life for patients, it also enables them to remain economically productive.

WHA73 agenda item 11.7
Documentation: WHA website and PHM WHO Tracker
Resolution adopted under silence procedure, 3 August 2020: Document WHA73.4

Strengthening efforts on Food Safety

A new resolution urges Member States to apply a “One Health” approach that promotes the sustainability and availability of safe, sufficient and nutritious food for all populations. Recognizing food safety threats, including foodborne antimicrobial resistance and climate change, the resolution also calls upon Member States to invest in national food safety systems and innovations, and to share timely data and evidence on foodborne disease outbreaks and hazards to the International Network of Food Safety Authorities (INFOSAN).

The Secretariat is requested to update the Global strategy for food safety to address current and emerging challenges and incorporate new technologies and innovative strategies for strengthening food safety systems. It also calls on the WHO Director-General to strengthen the Organization’s leadership in the Codex Alimentarius Commission and INFOSAN, and produce updated foodborne disease estimates by 2025.

Around the world, an estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people – fall ill after eating contaminated food each year, resulting in 420 000 deaths and the loss of 33 million healthy life years (DALYs). The burden of disease falls disproportionately on the most vulnerable, especially children and those living in developing countries.

WHA73 agenda item 15.3
Documentation: WHA website and PHM WHO Tracker
Resolution adopted under silence procedure, 3 August 2020: Document WHA73.5

Global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property

The Global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property urges Member States to reinforce implementation in line with the recommendations of an overall programme review panel. The decision also calls on Member States to further discuss, in informal consultations to be convened by the Director-General, the recommendations of the review panel on promoting and monitoring transparency of medicines prices and actions to prevent shortages. The decision emphasizes the necessity to allocate resources for WHO Secretariat implementation and further requests the Director-General to submit a report on progress made in implementing the decision to the Seventy-fourth World Health Assembly in 2021, through the Executive Board.

WHA73 agenda item 11.9
Documentation: WHA website and PHM WHO Tracker
Decision under silence procedure, 3 August 2020: Document WHA73(11)

Decade of Healthy Ageing

Member States endorsed a proposal for a Decade of Healthy Ageing 2020–2030 and asked the Director-General to report back on progress on its implementation every 3 years during the Decade. The Health Assembly also asked the Director-General to transmit this decision to the Secretary-General of the United Nations for consideration of the proposal for the Decade by the United Nations General Assembly.

Populations around the world are ageing at a faster pace than in the past and this demographic transition will have an impact on almost all aspects of society. Already, there are more than 1 billion people aged 60 years or older, with most living in low- and middle-income countries. Many do not have access to even the basic resources necessary for a life of meaning and dignity. Many others confront multiple barriers that prevent their full participation in society.

The Decade of Healthy Ageing is an opportunity to bring together governments, civil society, international agencies, academia, the media, and the private sector for ten years of concerted, catalytic and collaborative action to improve the lives of older people, their families, and the communities in which they live.

WHA73 agenda item 15.1
Documentation: WHA website and PHM WHO Tracker
Decision under silence procedure, 3 August 2020: Document WHA73(12)

Influenza Preparedness

Member States requested the Secretariat to continue its support for WHO’s Global Influenza Strategy 2019–2030. They also requested the promotion of synergies, where relevant and appropriate, with the International Health Regulations (2005), implementation of national plans for influenza preparedness and response, and immunization programmes. The Secretariat is requested to report back on progress through the Executive Board to the 75th World Health Assembly.

WHA73 agenda item 13.3
Documentation: WHA website and PHM WHO Tracker
Decision under silence procedure, 3 August 2020: Document WHA73(14)

…………………………..

Source: Communication by WHO Secretariat, 7 August 2020.
Annotations in italics: G2H2 Secretariat

The following decisions taken under “silence procedure” are not explicitly reported in the WHO Secretariat communication on 7 August 2020, but nevertheless published in the WHA documentation.

Geneva buildings renovation strategy

WHA73 agenda item 18.3
Documentation: WHA website and PHM WHO Tracker
Decision under silence procedure, 3 August 2020: Document WHA73(10)

WHO reform: travel and other entitlements of the Chair of the Executive Board and other Board members

WHA73 agenda item 18.4
Documentation: WHA website and PHM WHO Tracker
Decision under silence procedure, 3 August 2020: Document WHA73(13)

WHO reform: governance

WHA73 agenda item 18.4
Documentation: WHA website and PHM WHO Tracker
Decision under silence procedure, 3 August 2020: Document WHA73(15)

Evaluation of the election of the Director-General of the World Health Organization

WHA73 agenda item 18.5
Documentation: WHA website and PHM WHO Tracker
Decision under silence procedure, 3 August 2020: Document WHA73(16)

“De minimis” session of the 73 World Health Assembly, 18-19 May 2020

Due to Covid-19, the first “de minimis” session of the 73rd World Health Assembly was a very special one and took place virtually, using video conference technology. 

Latest updates (*see below for details):

20 May 2020: The Covid World Health Assembly: A People’s Assessment*
20 May 2020: Selected media coverage of the WHA*
20 May 2020: WHO DG: Closing remarks in final session on 19 May
20 May 2020: US explanation of their position regarding the “COVID-19 Response” Resolution

19 May 2020: “No-show”: Taiwan issue as proposed supplementary agenda item*
19 May 2020: New reports and assessments of the state of the Covid-19 resolution*
19 May 2020: Our WHA highlight: 
Address to 73rd World Health Assembly by Honourable Mia Mottley
19 May 2020: …and a letter by Mr Trump
19 May 2020: WHA Journal 2 (schedule and reports)

Our coverage of the first session of WHA73 is closed now; hope you liked it. See you again in better times!
Author: Thomas Schwarz, MMI Network

World Health Assembly: Basics

WHA documentation

WHA webcast and public relations

“De minimis” session

The first “de minimis” session of the World Health Assembly started on 18 May at 12 hrs CEST and ended on 19 May at the latest. The “abridged provisional agenda” of the World Health Assembly included only four agenda items:

1. Opening of the Health Assembly
3. Address by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General
4. Invited speaker(s)
6. Executive Board: election

The provisional abridged agenda is annotated as follows:

“In the context of the restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and through a written silence procedure, the Executive Board has approved the arrangements for a virtual World Health Assembly to be held, using video conferencing technology. This de minimis session will only consider an abridged version of the provisional agenda.

During the opening of the Health Assembly, Member States will be invited to also consider the adoption of special procedures, the verification of credentials and the adoption of a written silence procedure.

The Committees of the Health Assembly will not convene.

Under the item ‘Closure of the Health Assembly’, Member States will be invited to consider suspending the Health Assembly until it can meet in a resumed session later in 2020.”

The WHA documentation is introduced as follows: “The May 2020 session of the Health Assembly will be a virtual de minimis meeting, with the intention to defer consideration of most items of the Health Assembly to written procedure or a resumed meeting later in the year. In light of this and given the ongoing resource requirements related to the COVID-19 pandemic, some documents that are not required for items to be considered at the virtual de minimis meeting in May 2020 will be published at a later date. This will only take place when the work of the Assembly would not be adversely impacted. We believe this represents a prudent use of resources and reflects the current priorities of the Organization.”

A World Health Assembly dominated by Covid-19

There was no formal WHA agenda item on Covid-19, but all attention and the entire World Health Assembly focused on it.

Ahead of the session, there was a long debate whether a World Health Assembly would makes sense at all as all Ministries of Health were busy with Covid-19. Yet there seemed to be given strong voices in particular from some foreign ministries saying that a WHA could bring an important signal for the relevance of WHO in these difficult times.

An EU sponsored resolution on Covid-19 was negotiated behind the closed doors of a “Member States process” and was approved by the WHA, on Tuesday 19 May, by consensus, but with some countries (USA, others?) dissassociating themselves from some statements.

Drafts of the resolution

Reports and assessments

David Pilling and Demetri Sevastopulo: “According to several people familiar with the situation, the US was planning to disassociate itself from part of the resolution, but talks are continuing. Although the US will make its objections clear, the resolution is expected to pass. The White House declined to comment on the negotiations.”

Priti Patnaik: “Depending on who you talk to, or what you read, the COVID19 resolution is being described as positive or weak. But it appears, most experts who work on issues of access to medicines are of the view that the text of the resolution as it stands now, is weak. By noon today, May 14th, the silence procedure ended (the “silence period” was extended last night illustrating the difficulty in reaching consensus). It is unclear whether negotiations will continue, although the silence period is over. If the text is not up for consultation again, it will come up for formal adoption at the assembly next week.”

Elaine Ruth Fletcher: “The world seems set to make at least a symbolic display of unity in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic  at the upcoming World Health Assembly (WHA), which begins on Monday. The WHO’s 194 member states are expected to overwhelmingly approve a European Union-led resolution that aims to step up the global COVID-19 response, and ensure equitable access to treatments and future vaccines. Along with EU member states, the resolution, published Friday on the WHO website, is supported by an impressive list of 28 other countries worldwide.”

Selected coverage

20 May

19 May

18 May

Attending the World Health Assembly:
Registration and civil society statements

Non-State actors in official relations with WHO (including civil society organizations) have the “exceptional possibility” to “post written statements, under provisional agenda item 3 Address by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, which will be devoted to the Covid-19 pandemic response in advance of the opening of the Health Assembly.” This implies that oral civil society statements will not be allowed.

NSA in official relations are also requested to “register delegates” to “receive the log in details to access the virtual meeting”. This contradicts with our expectation that the World Health Assembly will be publicly accessbile, via webcast.

Having asked the WHO secretariat for clarification, they reacted immediately (thank you!) and confirmed that the World Health Assembly will indeed be publicly webcast: “However, the advantage of a formal registration will allow posting of statements on the dedicated  webpage and also have the organization reported as a participant to WHA.”

    • See, as reference, a “cleaned” version of the WHA invitation to NSA, without contact and login details, as received from a G2H2 member: WHA73 NSAs English no details
    • Statements of “non-state actors” (mainly civil society) are published here: nonstateactorsstatements
    • Special procedures: A73/33 

Civil society meetings on Friday, 15 May and Tuesday, 26 May 2020

A World Health Assembly in times of a dual crisis: Covid-19 and the collapse of multilateralism as we have known it

The civil society meeting on 15 May allowed members of the Geneva Global Health Hub and other civil society colleagues to share their views of the World Health Assembly in the current crisis of multilateralism that is accentuated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The discussion were  structured along two (interrelated) thematic fields:

    1. Looking ahead to WHA73: Can the World Health Assembly uphold its status as the most relevant forum to negotiate global public health particularly in a major global health crisis?
    2. Beyond the World Health Assembly: How successfully is WHO defending and shaping its role as the “leading and coordinating global health authority”? Or is the Covid19 pandemic the last straw for this multilateral institution in the middle of a wider crisis of multilateralism?

Our discussions will be continued and deepened at a second civil society meeting, on 26 May, based on civil society assessments of the outcomes of WHA73.

WHA side events

On 18 and 19 May, we recommend to civil society colleagues to focus all your attention on the deliberations and debates of the WHO Member States on the COVID-19 pandemic and response and NOT to hold any “virtual” side events during the working hours of the World Health Assembly. For this reason, we will also not publish a regular issue of our traditional “WHA TODAY” events calendar. 

G2H2 guide to WHA73

This informal guide to the 73rd World Health Assembly and the related sessions of the WHO Executive Board was provided by the Geneva Global Health Hub (G2H2) as a service to its members and partners.

Author/contact: Thomas Schwarz
MMI Network / G2H2 Secretariat

WHA73 issues, debates, politics

  • Modalities of an almost impracticable World Health Assembly
  • Health Emergencies and Covid-19
  • The WHO reform case
  • The US case (resolved now?)
  • The Taiwan issue, episode 15

Further on this page:

  • Coverage of the WHO EB Special Session on the Covid-19 response in October 2020
  • Cverview of WHA decisions taken via “written silence procedure”
  • Coverage of the “De minimis” session of WHA73 in May 2020

Covid-19, in a world
that cannot breathe

G2H2 civil society meeting 
4 November 2020, 15.00-17.00 CET

Our meeting wants to discuss about the unprecedented year 2020, nearing its end. During our civil society exchange we would like to ask participants feelings and impressions on how they’ll look back to 2020 in a generation from now, from a global health perspective, and from a perspective of their lives, the lives of the communities they belong to. What will we tell our children and/ or the young people then?

Please note that this is not the (expected, standard) “G2H2 civil society meeting ahead of the World Health Assembly” but a safe space and place to breathe, from a global health perspective. Try it out. Join us. This civil society brainstorming meeting is open to all G2H2 members and others interested.

Announcement: here
Registration: here

G2H2 Annual General Meeting

5 November 2020, 16.30-18.30 CET

The meeting is open to institutional and individual member of the Geneva Global Health Hub. Invitations were sent out on 24 September, via “G2H2-members” mailing list. Please register ahead of the meeting. Contact for enquiries: G2H2 Secretariat

G2H2 Civil society meeting ahead of WHA73, Friday, 15 May 2020

A World Health Assembly in times of a dual crisis: Covid-19 and the collapse of multilateralism as we have known it

Interested in G2H2?

Consider joining us, and help us to build a strong civil society space in Geneva for more democratic global health.

Member and membership: here