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Geneva: News from the World Health Assembly

My name is Beth Rowlands and I am a nurse from the UK. Along with 11 other British health workers, I have volunteered with Save the Children as a health worker campaigner.

Decision-making at a global level

I am currently in Geneva at the first day of the World Health Assembly, hoping to get a better understanding of what is involved in decision-making for health at a global level.

It’s been a fascinating day so far. In the huge Palais des Nations assembly hall, we saw representatives from the governments of the 194 member countries of the World Health Organization (WHO). I was pleased that that in the initial addresses to the conference, mention was made of universal health coverage (UHC) and the vital importance of health workers in the framework for health after the Millennium Development Goals.

Meeting the UK Secretary of State for Health

In the morning I had a brief meeting with the UK Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, who is leading the UK delegation.

I told him about our group of Health Worker Campaigners and how passionate we are about improving global access to health workers.

It was great to hear that he is interested in UHC, and he promised to ensure it was included in his speech to the assembly in the afternoon.

Commitment to universal health coverage

After lunch, Dr Margaret Chan, the Director General of the WHO, gave a speech to a packed assembly hall.

I squashed into the NGO area to listen to her . She, too, stressed the importance of member states’ commitment to UHC to maximise health outcomes for all, irrespective of their ability to pay.

She highlighted the need for people to have access to healthcare without risking financial ruin, and that equity and justice in healthcare provision are vital for both development and social mobility.

It was good to hear her mention the need for commitment to the training and education of primary health care workers.

From speech to action

Sitting in the assembly hall now listening to representatives from many countries, it’s refreshing to hear a commitment to the principles of UHC mentioned by so many.

I really hope that these statements are put into action. They must translate to training and support for health workers, so that poor countries are able to retain the most important aspect of any health service: the staff who deliver it.

Tonight, I am going to a meeting organised by the Global Health Workforce Alliance to hear about their plans for the Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in November. It’s a packed agenda – but so far, as interesting as it is worthwhile.

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