Screen Shot 2019-05-26 at 08.01.02.pngGeneva, 20 May 2019 (PAHO/WHO) – With a full work agenda, discussions at the side events on key public health issues, and the recognition of several health leaders, the 72nd World Health Assembly opened today in Geneva, Switzerland and will run through 28 May.

In his plenary opening speech, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, highlighted the main achievements of WHO’s Programme of Work the past year, the changes that the Organization is promoting to  comply with this program, and the priorities that should guide the countries’ discussions next year: health and political leadership, health partnerships, and people-centered health care.

The Director-General emphasized that the world has made progress toward universal health coverage this past year. Among other countries, he gave the example of El Salvador “that a few weeks ago passed a law to integrate health services, introduce innovative health financing, increase access to primary health care, and improve the regulation of the medicines agency.” He said that primary health care in general is where the battle for human health  “is won or lost,” and that strong health care services with the necessary health workforce must be ensured.

Dr. Tedros also referred to the progress made against many diseases, including malaria. He recalled that last year, Uzbekistan and Paraguay were certified as being malaria-free, and this year Argentina y Algeria will join them, which he congratulated them for.

The Director-General also spoke about the emergencies that WHO is responding to in the world, such as ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where there have been many attacks on health workers. Minutes before giving his speech, Dr. Tedros paid tribute to a WHO epidemiologist who died in one of these attacks a few weeks ago, along with his family. “Unless we unite to end this outbreak, we run the very real risk that it will become more widespread,” he said.

Read the complete speech here:

At the Assembly’s opening session, Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet spoke, along with Natasha Chibesa Wang Mwansa, a student from Zambia who offered the perspective of youth.

WHO also announced the appointment of four new goodwill ambassadors, three from the Region of the Americas: Alisson Becker, goalkeeper of the Brazilian national and Liverpool soccer teams, and Dr. Natália Loewe Becker, a medical doctor and health advocate from Brazil, as the Goodwill Ambassador for Health Promotion; Cynthia Germanotta, President of the Born This Way Foundation, which she co-founded with her daughter, Lady Gaga, as the Goodwill Ambassador for Mental Health; and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, as the Goodwill Ambassador for Health Workforce.

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Countries of the American Assume Different Positions in the World Health Assembly

Mexico will represent the Region of the Americas in the Vice Presidency of the 72nd World Health Assembly. This year, the presidency of the Assembly is held by the Western Pacific region of WHO. The Minister of Health of Laos, Bounkong Syhavong, was elected president. Bhutan, Senegal, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan were named to the remaining four vice-presidencies.

Paraguay will serve as rapporteur for Committee A, and Guyana will act as vice-chair of Committee B. Since Mexico holds the vice-presidency of the World Assembly, the Bahamas, Cuba, Honduras, and the United States will represent the Americas on the Assembly’s General Committee. The Dominican Republic and Suriname will represent the Region on the Credentials Committee.

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Jamaican doctor Peter Figueroa recognized as health leader at the Assembly

Jamaica doctor and professor, Peter Figueroa, was recognized today at the World Health Assembly as a health leader for his substantial contribution to public health in Jamaica, the Caribbean, the Americas, and the world over the past four decades.

Dr. Figueroa, a Professor of Public Health, Epidemiology and HIV-AIDs at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, received a plaque from Dr. Tedros.

“This recognition means a lot to me. It is a true honor. I’ve been working in public health for forty years and believe that I am an example, like many other health workers, of someone who commits their life to trying to help others,” he said.

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