WHA: World Health Assembly

Committee Overview:

At the 1945 founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco, the delegates from China and Brazil suggested the establishment of an international health organization that works within the UN’s jurisdiction. Though a number of health organizations existed, including the International Office of Public Hygiene and the Health Organization of the League of Nations, the end of World War II called for the creation of a “single worldwide intergovernmental health organization, within the general framework of the United Nations, which would not only assume responsibility for the work of the earlier bodies but have an extended role necessitated by the new problems arising of the war.” Thus, the Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) was adopted on 7 April 1948 for the purpose of “providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.” A number of guidelines were put into place to ensure the WHO functioned properly. For example, Article 70 of the WHO’s constitution stipulated the establishment of close relations between the World Health Organization and other inter-governmental organizations, such as the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). After its constitution was adopted, the WHO “subsumed within its organizational structure the activities” of the aforementioned global health organizations. The WHO takes direction from the World Health Assembly (WHA), an annual gathering of senior health officials from WHO member states. At the WHA, committees debate health matters and approve the texts of resolutions. In summary, the World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO.

Topic A: Maternal Health in Developing States

Maternal health and mortality rates are among the foremost concerns that the World Health Assembly has aimed to address. Not only do these topics play a key role in SDG 3 (Good Health and Well Being), but they are also considered a primary driver of development and thus contribute to the other SDGs as well. However, progress on this topic has been uneven. In developed states with robust healthcare systems, maternal mortality rates have plummeted. In much of the world, however, childbirth remains a common cause of death. Worse still, if maternal mortality continues to change at its current rate, the targets of SDG 3 will not be reached, as women continue to die at alarming rates due to a lack of care before, during, and after birth in developing nations. Key challenges in these states include a lack of infrastructure (both healthcare infrastructure and associated transportation infrastructure), the affordability of healthcare, and proper prenatal care. This Assembly must determine how the world can overcome these challenges and promote the spread of safe birth practices.

Topic B: Reducing the Threat of Non-Communicable Diseases

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) include genetic disorders, cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease, among many others. NCDs claim the lives of 41 million people annually and remain the leading cause of death worldwide. The UN has stressed the importance of relieving this burden through its commitment set forth by the SDGs, with target 3.4 calling for a decrease of premature mortality caused by NCDs through both treatment and prevention. Unfortunately, many developing countries do not have the resources to provide care for citizens affected by these diseases, which can lead to chronic pain, inability to work, and even death. Developing countries are also challenged by “brain drain,” which describes how many educated physicians from developing countries leave their home countries for better economic prospects in more developed countries. This, in turn, deprives patients in developing countries of the opportunity to see qualified physicians. Through technology, research, education, and policy, the risk factors for NCDs can be mitigated, and the barriers to prevention and treatment of this leading global cause of death can be vanquished.