66th World Health Assembly – Day 1

Hi Everyone!

I’m excited to be in Geneva for this year’s World Health Assembly for my practicum and want to thank Dr. Wipfli and the USC Institute for Global Health for this opportunity.

Today is the first day of the 66th World Health Assembly and everyone was very excited! This year’s topic is on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and plans in the post-2015 agenda. Dr. Shigenu Omi was elected President and spoke on adoption of the agenda and allocation of items to the main committees. Some topics touched on were the coordination of national and international strategies in addressing NCDs, utilizing a multi-sectoral approach in addressing these issues, and moving towards health equality with universal health coverage. At the third plenary meeting, Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, gave an inspiring opening address. She talked about tackling NCDs as not being easy, especially being amplified by products of economical forces, which translates to political forces. Industries contribute to NCDs, and when there is economic interest, there will be opposition. In this, she reinforced the importance of multi-sectoral approach, on not excluding the role of other industries to reduce NCDs. She gave the example of there is not one country that turn around obesity level in all age groups, reflecting a need to address NCDs. Addressing NCDs depends on prevention and cost-effective clinical care. She stated that: “good health can be achieve at low cost if good policies are in place.”

I also attended Committee A on the opening committee agenda items 10 and 13 on NCDs and a side event on “The role of private sector in countering NCDs. Committee A was a discussion on the draft of action plan for prevention and control of NCDs. It was extremely interesting to hear the member states’ views on the plan. The discussion was not finished and will continue later in the week. In the private sector side event, food labeling and other innovative instruments for involving the private sector in helping consumer to make healthy choices easier was discussed. Dr. Lynn James of Singapore gave a case-study of the Healthier Hawker Program in engaging the private, public, and the people in reducing the rising trend in obesity in Singaporeans. The Netherlands representatives discussed on Choices Programme, the logo they made to put on products in their program to help consumers make healthier choices received recognition among consumers, encouraged brands to develop healthier options, and encouraged retailers to present healthier options. The important message I got from this side event is again to have a multi-sectoral approach and that countries should learn from other countries by using the examples of other countries to tailor interventions to their own cultural and economic situations.

Overall, it was full first day with lots of information and an eye-opening learning experience for me. I am looking forward to the rest of the week!

Alice Ting