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Assembling Health for the World

This week I’m attending the World Health Assembly (WHA) at the United Nations in Geneva. The WHA is an annual event organized by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It brings together Ministers of Health and their staff from all over the world, along with the great and good from the world of global health – United Nations agencies, donor governments, NGOs and other civil society organisations.

Taking place in the Orwellian Palais des Nations (staff who work in this labyrinthine structure tell me they occasionally get lost) the WHA is a forum for discussing and deciding on some of the pressing issues affecting health globally.

The WHA is a chance to have easy access to decision makers without the usual procedural obstacles – this morning, for example, I had a chat with the Deputy General of the Pakistan Ministry of Health on the bus going up to the Palais des Nations.

It’s also an opportunity to remind these decision makers of their commitments. Unsurprisingly, the H1N1 influenza virus, or ‘swine flu’, has been a key focus of discussion this week. It’s an important issue, of course, not just in its own right but also because it highlights the poor state of health systems in many developing countries. Save the Children, working together with a few other NGOs here, is therefore keen to remind the WHA that it is essential to accelerate progress on strengthening health systems, and primary health care in particular. Otherwise the response to swine flu and other, much more significant killers in developing countries – malaria, pneumonia, measles – will remain ineffective.

I’m now sat in the impressive UN Assembly Hall waiting for the appearance of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. His address will be followed by a speech by Sarah Brown, the wife of the UK Prime Minister. Truly a gathering of the great and the good, let’s hope that the members of the WHA follow the impressive rhetoric with significant action.

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