Dr. Chan WHO

Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General on the fourth day of the World Health Assembly, 26 May 2016. Photographer: L. Cipriani

From May 23rd to May 28th, 3,500 delegates from the WHO’s 194 Member States, including a large proportion of the world’s health ministers, converged on Geneva for the 69th World Health Assembly to discuss the globe’s most essential health topics. The events generated coverage in more than 200 media outlets, 80,000 social mentions totaling 1.5 billion impressions using hashtag #WHA69.

Here are the key takeaways that GLOBALHealthPR partners and many of our clients will be keeping an eye on as we enter the second half of 2016:

  1. The Health Emergencies Programme: What You Need to Know

World Health Organization member states agreed to one of the most profound transformations in the WHO’s history, establishing a new  Health Emergencies Programme. As countries face or recover from epidemics such as Zika and Ebola, as well as other threats such as natural disasters, this programme aims to distribute rapid, predictable and comprehensive support.

According to the WHO’s press release, the programme will require a budget of $494 million for the 2016-2017 year, a $160 million increase to the existing budget. In order to track the progress made throughout the year, the WHO Director-General was tasked to report to the 70th World Health Assembly on the programme’s establishment and operation.

Analysis: The WHO has clearly laid out the need and costs involved in bringing such a timely and appropriate programme to life. What remains unclear is what return on investment this will have. An appropriate next step would be a clearly communicated of an action plan (beyond just reporting back at next year’s assembly) to bring the programme to life and an explicit outline of its ROI to pull through the value story.

  1. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Dr. Chan also highlighted the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the UN’s post-2015 successor to the Millennium Development Goals.

How do WHO delegates plan to pursue these goals? At the meeting, leaders laid out the following steps:

  • Highlight universal health coverage
  • Report economic, environmental, and social causes of health problems.
  • Continue expanding efforts to address poor maternal and child health and infectious diseases in developing countries

Dr. Chan informed members that health has a crucial role in the new SDG agenda, and that universal health coverage is an effective approach to achieving health related targets.


The technical briefing for 26 May 2016 discussed “Health in emergencies”. Photographer: L. Cipriani

Analysis: The pharmaceutical industry, often seen as an obstruction is beginning to catch on and take a more meaningful role in reaching these goals. Industry is realizing the need to also communicate with the public about its involvement. For example, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA) has prominently featured the SDGs as a key topic on its new website, and highlighted over  250 partnerships in sustainable development with industry member companies

  1. Childhood Obesity

Dr. Chen emphasized the dangers of junk food saying, “the marketing of junk food – particularly to children – has become a global phenomenon.” For example, in Australia, 58 percent of the average household’s food budget is spent on junk food. Additionally, The WHO informed attendees that worldwide today, 19,000 fewer children are dying every day and there’s been a 44 percent decrease in maternal mortality—a huge success. However, key challenges persist:

  • 1.9 billion children are overweight
  • 462 million children are underweight
  • 2 billion children are deficient in essential nutrition

Despite the substantial improvement, the delegates at the WHA agreed to implement two new health strategies linked to the Sustainable Development Goals. The first, The Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, builds a safeguard for women, children, and adolescents globally, to “survive and thrive” by 2030. This is an update to the 2010 Strategy that WHO has currently implemented. Their intention is to inspire political leaders and policy-makers to improve the health and lifestyles of women, children and adolescents as well as encouraging positive changes.

Analysis: Since 2012, GLOBALHealthPR has spotlighted the lack of discussion around childhood obesity, and identified the opportunity to improve dialogues through digital conversations. It was refreshing to see this trend discussed openly at WHA this year. Now the focus shifts to Dr. Chan’s sharp comments about junk food. How will multinational food industry players respond and collaborate for solutions?

The role of communicators

Communications professionals who routinely serve clients in the pharmaceutical, biotech and consumer science industries should keep a finger on the pulse of what the global public health community is saying and doing. They also need to seek opportunities to share stories about the ways in which industry is working collectively to tackle these key health issues.

For in-house communications officials and marketers, building a dialogue with the public health community encourages awareness and provides the chance to bridge the gap between the public’s often negative perception of industry and the reality that the private sector can be a collaborative and action-oriented partner for global good.

Question: How else can we as communicators reinforce WHO’s efforts in spreading awareness of the key health challenges highlighted at the World Health Assembly?


About the Author:

Fabiana Cuellar is a Public Relations Intern at GLOBALHealthPR