WHO and the WHA – an explainer
An introduction to the World Health Organization, its vital role in the fight against COVID-19, and the virtual World Health Assembly
Last updated 9 November 2020
The World Health Organization (WHO) is the specialized health agency of the United Nations with 194 member states. WHO works worldwide to promote the highest attainable standard of health for all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, political belief, economic or social condition.
WHO’s mission is to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable. Access to affordable and adequate health care is a human right and universal healthcare is a key principle guiding WHO’s work.
By 2023, WHO aims to attain triple billion targets, with one billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage, one billion more people better protected from health emergencies, and one billion more people enjoying better health and well-being. At least half of the world’s population lacks access to essential health services and out-of-pocket expenses drive almost 100 million people into poverty each year.
WHO convenes leading health experts from around the world to produce reference materials on global health issues and make recommendations to improve the health of all people. WHO is comprised of the World Health Assembly, Member States and the Secretariat.
The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the main governing body of the WHO comprising of 194 Member States. Every year, delegates from WHO Member States come together to agree on the Organization’s priorities, and policies. At the Assembly, new health goals and strategies are set, and tasks are assigned in order to reach those goals.
Delegations consider and provide guidance on policies and course of action, which are then coordinated by the Secretariat. While WHA can make recommendations and suggest courses of action, particularly in unprecedented times of global health risk, it depends on each government to determine their response and act upon it.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Seventy-third World Health Assembly (WHA73) is being held in two parts this year.
The first virtual de miminis session was held on 18-19 May with an abridged agenda focusing on the global pandemic.
Member states adopted a landmark resolution co-sponsored by more than 130 countries to bring the world together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The consistent message throughout the two-day meeting, including from the 14 heads of state participating, was that global unity is the most powerful tool to combat the outbreak. The resolution is a concrete manifestation of this call, laying out a roadmap for ending the pandemic.
On 9-14 November, Member States are convening a resumed session to discuss the full agenda that has been deferred from May 2020.
Since May, Member States have adopted a number of decisions – the Immunization Agenda 2030, the Decade of Healthy Ageing 2020-2030, Global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property as well as initiatives to tackle cervical cancer, tuberculosis, eye care, food safety, and influenza preparedness.
The resumed session will discuss amongst a total agenda of over 50 items, a 10-year-plan for addressing neglected tropical diseases, as well as efforts to address meningitis, epilepsy and other neurological disorders, maternal infant and young child nutrition, digital health, and the WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel, adopted in 2010.
As countries respond to COVID-19, WHO’s role has never been more essential. As the United Nations health agency, WHO works to connect the best minds from around the world to solve this crisis together.
WHO is working to gather data and continue communicating science as the pandemic evolves. WHO is guided by the United Nations’ principles of neutrality, impartiality and equity, as well as the protection of human rights.
The global pandemic underscores the importance of solidarity to garner support and collaboration. And WHA has a special importance in facilitating discussions to chart an effective strategy to end the pandemic.
COVID-19 threatens the health and wellbeing of everyone on our planet. It requires a rapid, coordinated, evidence-based global response. The World Health Organization is coordinating that response and the efforts to protect all people, everywhere.
WHO is also coordinating scientific solutions to prevent, test and treat COVID-19. WHO gathers global data and brings together evidence and expertise from the world’s best scientists to offer advice and guidance to countries according to their unique situations. In a global health crisis, the world is only as strong as its weakest health system.
In responding to the pandemic, WHO and its partners established a new global coalition – the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. This is a unique partnership of many international health agencies who have come together to share and build on individual expertise to create a powerful global solution that will ensure equity in access to tests, vaccines and treatments across the world.
Because no one is safe until everyone is safe.