TWN Info Service on Health
Issues No. 5
WHA committee approves resolution on health regulations
By Martin Khor
Geneva, 20 May
The World Health Assembly
on Friday passed the half-way mark of its 2005 meeting (held on 16-25
May), with the adoption of several resolutions after five days of work
on a range of issues.
The resolutions that have been approved, at the committee stage, were
on the revision of international health regulations, malaria control,
health action on crises and disasters, and health conditions in the
occupied Palestinian territory. The resolutions will come up for adoption
by the WHA on 25 May.
Resolutions on tuberculosis
prevention and control, pandemic influenza, antimicrobial resistance
and an immunization strategy were still being debated at press-time
An interesting discussion
took place Thursday afternoon and Friday morning on the contentious
issue of smallpox research, with many countries expressing concern about
recommendations by a WHO scientific committee to conduct research on
remaining smallpox virus stocks making use of genetic engineering.
At the close of the discussion,
the WHO secretariat's head of Communicable Diseases said the WHO took
special note of the concerns and caution expressed, and specially welcomed
the recommendations of member states that WHO ask the scientific committee
to revisit and review their recommendations.
After four days of work by
a drafting group, the resolution on international health regulations
was approved by Committee A. It will accompany the International Health
Regulations 2005, which had been finalized on 14 May. Eventual adoption
of the resolution and the IHR 2005 by the Assembly on 25 May will be
the landmark event of the 58th WHA.
The 56-page IHR 2005 is aimed
at preventing, protection, control and provision of a public health
response to the international spread of disease. It contains obligations
for countries to inform and notify WHO of public health emergencies
and to develop capacities to respond effectively to public health risks
and emergencies of international concern.
The WHO is mandated to issue
recommendations on health measures to be taken by countries in the event
of public health emergencies. These obligations and recommendations
include measures at points of entry (airports, ports and ground crossings)
and provisions for travellers, goods and containers.
Under the resolution, the
WHA adopts the IHR 2005, underscoring the importance of WHO's role in
global outbreak alert and response to public health events and the continued
importance of the IHR as the key global instrument for protection against
the international spread of disease.
It decided that the first
report by the states parties and the WHO Director General on implementation
of the regulations will be submitted at the 61st WHA (in 2008), which
will also decide on schedule for further reports and the first review
on the functioning of the regulations.
The resolution urged member
states to build capacities required under the IHR 2005 and mobilize
resources for that purpose, and provide support to developing countries
to build capacities.
It requested the WHO Director
General to take ten measures, including notifying member states of the
regulations, inform intergovernmental and international organizations
and cooperate with them to update their norms and standards to ensure
measures to protect health and strengthen global response to the international
spread of disease.
The DG is also asked to set
up a review committee under Article 50 to give technical advice on recommendations
and their modification and on the functioning of the regulations; and
to immediately prepare guidelines to implement the "decision instrument"
in Annex B. That Annex contains a flowchart representing steps to be
taken by governments to assess and notify events that may constitute
a public health emergency of international concern.
The resolution on health
conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory was adopted by Committee
B on Thursday after a politically-charged debate and a vote with 95
countries in favour, 8 against and 11 abstaining.
It expressed concern at the
deterioration of the economic and health conditions and humanitarian
crises resulting from Israeli occupation, deplored the impact on Palestinian
water resources of Israeli waste disposal in the West Bank, and health
effects on Palestinians of the "enhanced X ray machine" used
by Israel at Palestinian border-crossing points.
The resolution called on
Israel to immediately halt its practices, policies and plans which affect
the health conditions of civilians under occupation, and demanded that
Israel reverse its practice of dumping waste in the occupied territory.
It requested the WHO Director
General to submit a fact-finding report on the health and economic situation
in the occupied territory; undertake an independent health-impact assessment
of the "enhanced X-ray machine" used by Israel at Palestinian
border-crossing points; support the Palestinian health ministry overcome
the current difficulties and in particular guarantee the free movement
of health personnel and patients and provision of medical supplies to
Palestinian medical premises; and provide technical assistance to Palestinians
and to Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan; and support the
development of the health system in Palestine.
A resolution on malaria was
agreed to by Committee A on Thursday. Expressing concern that malaria
continues to cause over a million preventable deaths a year, it urges
member states to ensure that at least 80% of those at risk of malaria
benefit from preventive and curative measures by 2010 so as to reduce
the burden of malaria by at least 50% by 2010 and 75% by 2015; and to
scale up prevention through free or subsidized materials and medicines
to vulnerable groups (with the aims of giving preventive treatment to
60% of pregnant women, and 60% of those at risk using insecticide-treated
The resolution also urged
governments to support expanded access to artemisinin-based combination
therapy (including through new funds) and the scaling up of artemisinin
production. Countries should also support the development of new medicines,
diagnostic tests, vaccines, new insecticides and delivery modes, in
order to enhance effectiveness and delay the onset of resistance.
The WHO Secretariat was requested
to expand its work on assisting malaria-affected countries, ensure sufficient
mosquito nets and effective antimalarial medicines are made available
(including possible WHO bulk purchases on behalf of members states).
The WHO was also asked to
collaborate to develop affordable products for malaria control, including
rapid, easy-to-use diagnostic tests, an effective malaria vaccine, novel
antimalarial medicines and new and environmentally friendly insecticides.
On health action in crises
and disasters (especially the Asian tsunami), the resolution adopted
by Committee A said over 30 countries face major crises, with 500 million
people at risk and another 20 countries are at high risk of serious
natural or man-made events, increasing the persons at risk to 2,000
to 3,000 million.
It urged members states to
establish global, regional and national preparedness plans to respond
to health crises, provide backing to tsunami-affected countries and
all other states affected by disasters, and ensure all affected people
have equitable access to health care in times of crisis, and improve
mechanisms for humanitarian assistance. The WHO secretariat was requested
to intensify support for tsunami-affected states and others affected
by crises, provide accurate information to the media to counter rumours
and prevent public panic and conflicts, and enhance capacity to respond
to health needs in crises and post-crisis recovery.
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