So, Why Are You Attending the World Health Assembly?

So, Why Are You Attending the World Health Assembly?

 {Photo credit: Crystal Lander/MSH}Gloria Sangiwa (left), MSH Senior Director of Technical Quality and Innovation and Global Technical Lead on Chronic Diseases, talks with another delegate at the Global Health Council (GHC) welcome reception.Photo credit: Crystal Lander/MSH

This blog post is part of our Global Health Impact series on the 67th World Health Assembly in Geneva, May 18-24, 2014. MSH is co-hosting three side events focusing on the role of universal health coverage (May 20), chronic diseases (May 20), and governance for health (May 21) in the post-2015 framework. This year, six MSH representatives are attending WHA as part of the 60-plus-person Global Health Council (GHC) delegation.

Sunday was my first day in Geneva for the World Health Assembly (WHA). I attended WHA last year for the first time, and I am feeling a bit like a second-year college student.

As I prepared for this year’s meeting, a few colleagues asked me: Why is the WHA so important to global health policy? Who attends these things and why? I instantly responded to the questions somewhat defensively: "It’s the WHA--that’s why!"

Then on my plane ride here, I thought more about it. This meeting attracts a diverse group of people from governments, private sector, corporate sector, and non-government agencies. I decided to ask other delegates why they are attending WHA.

I set out Sunday night to have mini-interviews with delegates, and I had the perfect opportunity at the Global Health Council’s welcome reception for delegates. As groups of people circulated and networked, I had a chance to ask people of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences about why they are here.

It was funny: almost everyone I spoke with seemed to give the same three for reasons for their trip to Geneva: to connect, advocate, and collaborate.

  1. Connect.
    The WHA is a forum for Ministers of Health from around the world to gather. It’s rare that one can connect with the Ministers of Chile, South Africa, Brazil, and Mauritius in a single room, but that’s exactly what happened at the UNITAID reception on Sunday evening. The Ministers actually expect to talk with people and listen. The US government allows and encourages meetings with technical groups and advocates, but rarely does that access apply to Ministers of Health around the world, who are the chief engineers of health in their countries.

  2. Advocate.
    "You come to WHA to get a global health resolution passed or implemented", like the 2012 resolution requiring World Health Organization (WHO) to provide global leadership on methods of collection and dissemination of data about attacks on health workers and health services in complex emergencies

  3. Collaborate.
    This is a great opportunity for joint educational events and to learn about global developments, like the presentation by the WHO and the World Bank on their new document, “Monitoring Progress towards Universal Health Coverage at Country and Global Levels: A Framework” (PDF).

It was exciting to talk with other delegates about their goals for the WHA and why they are here.

As one delegate said, the best thing about WHA is that: "everyone coming to Geneva has the common goal of the advancement of global health; we just have to work on how we get to [the] end goal."