70th World Health Assembly Recap


This past May, leaders of health from across the globe met in Geneva, Switzerland to participate in the 70th World Health Assembly. Serving as the highest level decision-making body in health policy, the World Health Assembly assembles health ambassadors from 194 member states to oversee how the World Health Organization (WHO) is governed. The nine-day period from May 22-31, 2017, was a prolific time for the World Health Assembly as several global health and health policy resolutions were adopted, a new budget for the World Health Organization was approved, and a new WHO Director-General was elected.

The 70th World Health Assembly was held in Geneva, Switzerland. Source: Tehran Times.

WHO membership fees rose by 3 percent this year, in order to fund the increasing number of upcoming global health programs, initiatives, and campaigns. Several existing global health programs will be strengthened by receiving funds obtained from increased WHO membership fees, namely: the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and the Global Vaccine Action Plan.

Founded in 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership among organizations such as the WHO, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rotary International, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and UNICEF that aims to eradicate polio worldwide. With poliovirus only remaining in a few locations, the World Health Assembly has passed a polio transition planning resolution in order to scale down the initiative and refocus their efforts elsewhere.1 Released in 2011, the Global Vaccine Action Plan is a global health framework that endeavors to ensure the safety of millions via expanding access to quality vaccinations by 2020. And this year, member states seek to improve the efficacy of national immunization programs by investing in further research that would proliferate accessible vaccines.2

In the near future, however, the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance could pose a significant threat to immunization initiatives. Consequently, member states are developing national action plans that employ evidence-based research to address this issue. Additionally, to encourage global well-being, the World Health Assembly has proposed various methods to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the most important of which augments the International Health Regulations with an emergency response clause.3

Similar to previously existing initiatives, the 70th World Health Assembly was also effective in the implementation of new global health programs such as the Global Vector Control Response (2017-2030) and the Dementia Action Response Plan (2017-2025). The Global Vector Control Response aims to reduce the prevalence of vector-borne diseases, as well as decrease mortality rate by 70%. To achieve this, the World Health Organization will increase technical capacities, help to improve member states’ infrastructures, monitor surveillance systems, and encourage national health departments to mobilize their own communities into action. The latter program aims to improve the lives of those with dementia, and reduce the impact that dementia has on communities. The Dementia Action Response Plan recommends that countries fund technological and scientific research on dementia, specifically teach dementia diagnoses in medical education, and improve methods for family and community care for those with dementia.4

Interdepartmental collaboration was a significant theme for this year’s World Health Assembly, in that the WHO realized that working jointly with other UN governing bodies is essential for success in an ever-changing society. Thus, a 5-year action plan was developed to address the global health and social workforce shortage among the WHO, International Labor Organization, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.5  This workgroup emerged through linked interests: in certain countries, the developing infrastructure concedes a relationship between public health epidemics and workforce shortage, while in developed nations it does not. Thus, these three organizations resolved to address this issue by educating children in schools that the health workforce is a viable career option, by altering the nature of the sector by partnering with diverse organizations and stakeholders, and by demonstrating that the private sector can be involved with government organizations in the public sector.

On May 23rd 2017, the Member States of WHO elected Dr. Ghebreyesus as the Director-General of WHO. Source: L. Cipriani, World Health Organization.

As previously discussed on The Yale Global Health Review in early May, the final three candidates for Director-General of the WHO were chosen. To see a previous discussion about the merits of each candidate, as well as the position’s duties, click here. On May 23rd, the 194 member states elected Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as the new Director-General. Dr. Ghebreyesus is an Ethiopian is foremost a public health researcher. His credentials include: serving as chair of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and chair of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership Board. Later in his career, he shifted to dealing with politics as the Ethiopian Minister of Health and the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs.6

As the first Director-General from an African nation and first non-medical doctor, he faces many daunting public health challenges; however, his unique background and experiences qualify him to change the trajectory of this organization. Dr. Ghebreyesus’s highest priorities involve helping the WHO recover from their delayed mistreatment of the 2014 Ebola crisis, implementing a system for universal healthcare, and addressing an apprehensive  United States under the Trump administration. One can only hope that Dr. Ghebreyesus has the knowledge, power, and ability to significantly reform the WHO.7

As evident by its actions, the 70th World Health Assembly was productive in its commitment to resolving global health crises, and demonstrated that the WHO will continue to fervently pursue global health reform in the upcoming year. With a revised budget, new leadership, and promising initiatives, the World Health Organization is equipped with the necessary tools to improve health outcomes around the world.

Matthew Pettus is a sophomore in Saybrook College. He is a prospective Cognitive Science major. He can be reached at matthew.pettus@yale.edu



  1. United Nations World Health Organization. (2017). Polio transition planning brief. Seventieth World Health Assembly.
  2. Epstein, D., Linn, L., & Oliel, S. (2017). The 70th World Health Assembly closes. Pan American Health Organization. Retrieved from http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13386%3A2017-05-31-12-45-53&catid=1443%3Aweb-bulletins&Itemid=135&lang=en.
  3. Bridges Africa. (2017). World Health Assembly closes with focus on means to achieve health-related SDGs. International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development. Retrieved from https://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/bridges-africa/news/world-health-assembly-concludes-with-focus-on-means-to-achieve.
  4. Ravelo, J. (2017). 8 Takeaways from the 70th World Health Assembly. Devex: Do Good. Do it well. Retrieved from https://www.devex.com/news/8-takeaways-from-the-70th-world-health-assembly-90362.
  5. Epstein, D., Linn, L., & Oliel, S. (2017). The 70th World Health Assembly closes. Pan American Health Organization. Retrieved from http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13386%3A2017-05-31-12-45-53&catid=1443%3Aweb-bulletins&Itemid=135&lang=en.
  6. Price, T. (2017). Secretary Price delivers address at 70th World Health Assembly. US Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2017/05/22/secretary-price-delivers-address-at-70th-world-health-assembly.html.
  7. Busby, J., Grépin, K., & Youde, J. (2017). The World Health Organization just picked a new leader. These are the challenges he faces. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/06/15/the-new-who-director-general-faces-more-than-global-health-challenges/?utm_term=.90376560769d.



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