Pandemic preparedness and response, equity among key topics for the Americas at Seventy-seventh World Health Assembly

Delegates at World Health Assembly

Geneva, Switzerland, 1 June 2024 (PAHO) - Building on the lessons from COVID-19, countries from the Americas strongly engaged in decisions to better prepare against present and future health challenges, including pandemics, climate change and growing antibiotic resistance, and to promote universal health coverage at the global health gathering.

The 77th World Health Assembly brought together World Health Organization (WHO) Member States to Geneva, Switzerland, from 27 May-1 June 2024 to discuss global health priorities. Chief among these were negotiations for an international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response and amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR).

Countries agreed on a package of amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) and made concrete commitments to completing negotiations on a global pandemic agreement within a year, at the latest.

The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, welcomed these decisions. “The IHR provides the platform where countries come together to identify early threats and provide better responses to outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics,” he said. 

He also greeted the decision to continue negotiations on a pandemic agreement, as it “recognizes achievements made so far in these two years of discussions” and provides a path for countries to build consensus towards an instrument that “will leave the world much better prepared to respond to a possible pandemic and address some of the critical issues we experienced during COVID-19.”

Countries from the Americas also endorsed resolutions calling for urgent action to address cross-cutting challenges and to promote health for all.

A landmark resolution on health and climate change was adopted, underscoring the interdependence of environmental sustainability and public health. Countries also endorsed an important document to strengthen health emergency preparedness for natural hazards, such as earthquakes, floods, storms and forest fires. As climate-related extreme weather events increase in frequency and intensity, health systems must boost strategies to protect populations.

The Assembly committed to accelerate national and global responses to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), ahead of the second UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting (HLM) on AMR in September 2024.  An estimated 1.3 million global deaths per year are attributable to drug-resistant bacterial infections.

Alarmed by the stagnation of progress in reducing maternal and child mortality, countries passed a resolution to increase preventive services at primary health care levels. The document also calls for the expansion of urgent obstetric care and small and sick newborn units, which are critical to manage complications associated with prematurity and other leading causes of newborn deaths. In Latin America and the Caribbean, nearly 8,400 women die each year due to pregnancy-related complications.

“To recuperate and accelerate towards the achievement of universal health coverage targets by 2030, investment in the expansion of all essential health services is required, especially those for NCDs and maternal health where minimal progress is being seen,” Dr. Barbosa said to Member States during a discussion to promote universal health coverage.

A first ever resolution on social participation for primary health care was approved during the meeting, paving the way for people, communities and civil society to have a stronger voice in decisions affecting their health and well-being.

The 77th World Health Assembly also endorsed WHO's Fourteenth General Programme of Work (GPW 14), a four-year strategy to build resilient, fit-for-future health systems.