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What We Are Watching: 75th World Health Assembly

This week, the 75th World Health Assembly will convene key leaders from 194 member states to discuss some of the most pressing global public health challenges. As the World Health Organization’s decision-making body, the WHA will determine WHO policies, programs and budgets.

This year, participants can expect the summit to focus on:

  • The rising rate of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), especially in low-and-middle income countries
  • Preparing for future pandemics
  • Developing resilient health systems

This year’s focus on NCDs is fitting. In 2016, the WHO declared NCDs the leading cause of death in Southeast Asia. Rates of NCDs, including cancer, are continuing to rise, in large part due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which has put other health care needs in the backseat and caused patients to miss important health appointments.

At this year’s WHA, delegates will consider new measures to improve effectiveness of the Global Coordination Mechanism (GCM) for non-communicable diseases. First established by the WHO in 2014, the GCM is comprised of more than 400 participants – including member states, United Nations organizations and non-state actors including non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, philanthropic foundations and private sector companies – around the shared mission of supporting countries in reducing premature mortality and unnecessary suffering from NCDs. Delegates will also discuss how to improve the taskforce’s performance and outcome indicators to track how implement strategies are actively impacting target populations.

There are a number of steps local governments and other stakeholders can take as they work to tackle rising NCD rates across Southeast Asia:

  • Prioritizing innovation that includes digital solutions and promoting access to these innovations
  • Strengthening policies for resilient health systems, health services and infrastructure
  • Expanding access to innovative medicines
  • Increasing awareness amongst patients and providers of the importance of being screened for NCDs like cancer

For example, life expectancy increases with the density of medical doctors—especially general practitioners. The ratio of doctors to population in ASEAN countries ranges from two to 19 doctors per 10,000 people. It is vital for governments to invest in and grow the healthcare workforce.

Thanks to treatment breakthroughs and wider health care access, people across Southeast

Asia are living longer than ever before. To further improve patient access to today’s new medicines and to drive discovery of tomorrow’s treatments and cures, key stakeholders must work together to invest in health, reduce barriers, accelerate access and enable innovation.

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