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60th World Health Assembly Meets on Critical Health Issues

by Fred Fortin

The World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, is holding its 60th annual meeting (May 14th-23rd) in Geneva, Switzerland. The Assembly, attended by delegations from the 193 Member States, will be discussing draft resolutions dealing with avian and pandemic influenza, smallpox eradication, noncommunicable diseases, better medicines for children and progress in the rational use of medicines.

In her opening remarks, new WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, outlined her six-point agenda for the WHO: health development; health security; strengthening health systems; using evidence to define strategies and measure results; managing partnerships to get the best results in countries, and improving the performance of WHO.

News coverage over the last few days of events related to the meeting may also be of some interest. Reuters ran a story about how heart disease and stroke were set to become the leading killers in Asia. “They are major health problems in Asia and they will surely increase unless we take multi-strategy multi-faceted action to prevent them,” said Judith Mackay, tobacco-control campaigner, senior policy adviser to the World Health Organization and author of the 2004 WHO Atlas of heart disease and strokes.

On a different front, Indonesia led 17 countries in demanding a”fair deal” for providing samples of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus drug companies use to make vaccines. Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said the WHO’s 50-year-old sharing system was unfair to poor countries.

“There is an unfair mechanism in which avian flu virus samples are provided free by developing countries but drug companies patented this vaccine and are selling them at unaffordable cost for the developing countries,” he said.

And finally in a related announcement , the WHO said it was improving access online to data on clinical trials in the wake of high-profile cases of drugs being tested with possibly harmful side-effects.”The Clinical Trial Search Portal is a collaborative international initiative led by WHO that facilitates the identification of all clinical trials, regardless of whether or not they have been published,” said Tim Evans, assistant WHO director-general for information evidence and research. Data from 50,000 clinical trials provided by three registers — in Britain, Australia/New Zealand and the United States — have been put on the WHO site.

The sessions have only begun and I ‘m sure more issues will come to the surface as the days go on.


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