[Ip-health] NPR: Snakebites And Kissing Bugs Among Surprise Items On World Health Agenda

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue May 28 19:31:25 PDT 2019


Snakebites And Kissing Bugs Among Surprise Items On World Health Agenda

May 28, 20192:21 PM ET


Staid and steeped in parliamentary rules, the annual World Health Assembly
is a mostly predictable exercise. Delegates from 194 member states of the
World Health Organization gather each May to plod through a lengthy agenda
and haggle over policies and priorities for the WHO's upcoming year. A few
decisions are momentous, most mundane.

Yet the May gathering always yields some surprises. This year's meeting,
which ended Tuesday, was no exception. From royalty to kissing bugs and
sexual rights to snakebites, the 72nd World Health Assembly offered some
unexpected moments and decisions.

Fireworks Over The Cost Of Medicines

Intense marathon debates broke out at the Assembly over revealing the true
costs of medicines. Italy proposed a resolution calling for public
reporting of the research and development costs of pharmaceutical
companies. Knowing how much it costs to develop a given medicine would give
countries leverage in price negotiations. WHA watchers were surprised to
see Germany isolated in seeking to block transparency, aligned with the
U.K. and Hungary but not with normal allies on such issues like France and
the U.S. In fact, the U.S., normally a supporter of Big Pharma on the
international stage, leaned more on the side of Italy. A last-minute,
weakened version of the resolution was finally approved on Tuesday.

Snakebite Fast Track

While the words "WHO" and "speed" rarely seem to go together, the
organization achieved what may be a personal best by officially launching
its new global snakebite strategy on May 23 — just a year after a World
Health Assembly resolution urged action on the issue. WHO's quick response
is needed given than an estimated 5.4 million people are bitten each year
and up to 138,000 people die, according to WHO. The strategy seeks to cut
snakebite deaths and disability by 50% by 2030.

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

As expected, U.S. representatives moved to eliminate any reference to
sexual and reproductive health and rights from a resolution on universal
health coverage. (It appears to be part of a Trump administration effort to
remove language around sexual health from U.N. resolutions, according to
documents obtained by Foreign Policy.) What wasn't expected was a surge in
pushback against the U.S. Let by Sweden, 43 countries from Europe, Latin
America and Asia asserted that sexual and reproductive health and rights
are essential to universal health coverage (which is the main focus of this
year's WHA), according to Health Policy Watch. Discussions on the
resolution are expected to continue through July in advance of a U.N.
high-level meeting on universal health coverage in September.

A Royal Guest

Just before a May 22 meeting on mental health began, more than 200
attendees suddenly began scooting back their chairs so they could stand.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had arrived, but he usually
doesn't receive that kind of welcome.

The reason for the mass respect? Her Majesty Mathilde, Queen of the
Belgians, was in the house. The royal advocate for mental health told
attendees that the issue has not been prioritized on the global agenda.
"This means care is far too modest," Queen Mathilde said. "Care for mental
health must be mainstreamed."

Chagas Disease Finally Has Its Day

More than a century after its discovery, the lethal,
kissing-bug-transmitted disease known as Chagas finally got some
recognition. WHA member states voted to officially establish April 14 as
World Chagas Day. Chagas kills up to 10,000 people annually, primarily in
Latin America, according to WHO. Trypanosoma cruzi parasites, transmitted
by blood-sucking triatomine bugs, can ultimately cause cardiac arrhythmias
or progressive heart failure that kills victims. The current Chagas
strategyemphasizes better surveillance of the disease and increasing access
to treatments.

Stars On The Streets

On May 19 attendees proved they can do more than just talk about health.
WHO sponsored a "Walk the Talk" event the day before the assembly began.
The event sent an estimated 1,000 participants to walk or run the streets
of Geneva ostensibly to promote WHO's health agenda and celebrate "healthy
lifestyles." But it was also an occasion for world health celebrity
watching: Joining Tedros for the event was Lady Gaga's mom Cynthia
Germanotta, who has just been named a WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Mental
Health; Nigerian singer Korede Bello; and Kenya's First Lady Margaret
Kenyatta, who drew attention to WHO's goals by stating "physical activity
has always been the lifelong secret to healthy lives and longevity for the
people and communities around the world" but also garnered attention for
her track suit, emblazoned with "FLOKE" — First Lady of Kenya.

Brian W. Simpson is editor-in-chief of Global Health NOW, a news website
and daily email published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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