WHA reaches agreement on polio, International Health Regulations and strengthening surgical care

22 May 2015
22 May 2015

Geneva, 22 May 2015 (PAHO/WHO) — The World Health Assembly continued progress Friday, reaching agreements on polio eradication; continued implementation of the International Health Regulations (2005); surgical care and medical products.


Delegates at the World Health Assembly today agreed on a resolution in which Member States recommit to stopping polio and to preparing for the phased withdrawal of oral polio vaccines.

The meeting noted that Polio eradication can only be achieved through global solidarity. Reviewing the latest global epidemiology and the impact of on-going efforts, delegates highlighted progress across Africa (which has not seen a case due to wild poliovirus since August 2014), and success in halting three large multi-country outbreaks in the Middle East, Horn of Africa and Central Africa. They also noted continuing efforts in Pakistan, and the strong progress being made, in close coordination with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, towards introduction of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and preparations for the phased withdrawal of oral polio vaccines.

International Health Regulations

Delegates endorsed the International Health Regulations Review Committee recommendation to extend the deadline to 2016 to all countries that need more time to implement the Regulations. The recommendation also emphasizes a dynamic, ongoing process of evaluation and improvement, and the value of independent assessment.

The recent Ebola outbreak has highlighted the importance of all countries having strong capacities to rapidly detect, respond to and prevent global public health threats such as disease outbreaks. The International Health Regulations (2005), oblige all Member States to have these capacities in place. Only one-third of all countries (64), however, reported that they had met the minimum requirements in 2014.

Speakers at today's meeting recognized the important role WHO plays in providing expertise and guidance to help countries enhance surveillance systems and laboratory services, build early warning and alert systems, and train health workers so that they can deal with major public health threats. They expressed strong support for pairing well-resourced countries with other countries to help them to meet the IHR requirements.

Yellow fever

In 2013, WHO's expert advisory group on immunization (SAGE) recommended that a single dose of yellow fever vaccine provides life-long immunity to the disease, making boosters unnecessary. Under the International Health Regulations (2005), vaccination may be required of any traveler leaving an area at risk of yellow fever transmission. The Regulations currently specify that travelers should renew immunization every ten years.

Changes to the Regulations recognizing the adequacy of a single dose of the vaccine will come into force in June 2016.

Some countries may, however, wish to institute the changes immediately. Delegates agreed to inform WHO if their governments decide to apply these changes immediately, and accept the validity of yellow fever vaccination certificates as life-long. WHO will publish an updated list of these countries online to inform international travellers. The Secretariat has also agreed to establish a scientific advisory group to work with affected countries to maintain up-to-date analysis of areas at risk.

Surgical care

Delegates of the World Health Assembly agreed a resolution on strengthening emergency and essential surgical care and anaesthesia.

A wide range of conditions — from cancer and diabetes to obstructed labour and road traffic injuries — can be successfully treated by surgery. In many parts of the world, access to emergency and essential services is extremely limited, with low and middle income countries concentrating available surgical care in urban centres. As a result, maternal mortality rates remain high, minor surgical issues become lethal and treatable injuries can lead to death or disability.

This resolution will help countries adopt and implement policies which will integrate safe, quality and cost effective surgical care into the health system as a whole. It highlights the importance of both expanding access and improving the quality and safety of services; strengthening the surgical workforce; improving data collection, monitoring and evaluation; ensuring access to safe anaesthetics such as Ketamine; and fostering global collaboration and partnerships. The resolution also underscores the need to raise awareness of the issue and build political commitment.

Substandard, spurious , falsely labelled, falsified and counterfeit medical products

Substandard, spurious , falsely labelled, falsified and counterfeit medical products continue to threaten health, not only because they do not provide the benefits they advertise, but because they also pose a serious health risk, and undermine the credibility of health systems. The World Health Assembly had set up a mechanism to raise awareness, gather evidence, implement policies and evaluate effectiveness of efforts to address this issue, and had planned to review the impact of that mechanism in 2016. Delegates today agreed to postpone this to 2017 - both to allow more time for the review itself and for implementation of new policies to tackle the problem.

Special events: Prevention and control of cancer

A panel of experts discussed policies and programs that have shown the best results in cancer prevention and control. Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO),  was among the participants and noted that prevention and control of cancer has improved in the Americas thanks to the incorporation of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for cervical cancer as well as screening programs for breast cancer and strengthening of health systems.
Etienne noted the contributions of the PAHO Revolving Fund, which has helped member countries procure HPV vaccine, and of the PAHO Strategic Fund, which allows countries to purchase some 25 cancer drugs at affordable prices.
Etienne said the region still faces important challenges in cancer, including better information and data on the burden of cancer in the countries to help design appropriate programs. Toward that end, PAHO is working with the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) to improve the quality of cancer registries in the Americas. Planned projects include a Latin American training center on registration and one for the Caribbean at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).