Delegates from 194 countries, spanning Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, converged on Geneva May 19th for the 67th annual World Health Assembly (WHA). The World Health Organization (WHO), host of the assembly, has set a provisional agenda for the meeting, set to include discussion and planning sessions for dealing with the health effects of climate change, hepatitis, health technology, and more.
One of the conference’s main focuses will be reproductive health for women and childhood mortality rates throughout the world. At last check, 2.6 million children die each year as stillbirths. Nearly 300,000 mothers lose their lives during childbirth as well. The WHA aims to come up with a “post-2015” plan for helping to reduce these issues where they are most prevalent, namely lower-to-middle income countries across the world. Similarly, the assembly will take up the discussion of how the world can better cooperate in medical research and development and what can be done to stem the spread of antibiotic resistant strains of many diseases, including tuberculosis.
Will MERS Have Its Time?
While the delegates of the WHA will have a full plate at this year’s meeting, it goes without saying that Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) will worm it’s way into discussion eventually. With Al Jazeera reporting that the death toll continues to climb toward 200 deaths in Saudi Arabia, thought by many health experts to be the origin of the illness, and the disease reportedly spreading across the globe, it’s hard to imagine that the group wouldn’t discuss a way to contain it and further discuss the possibility of producing prophylactic countermeasures.
Especially now, after the U.S. has confirmed its first case of person-to-person transmission of the disease, the WHO will have to grapple with the realities of a disease that has so far killed 30% of the people it is known to have infected. Whether or not the U.S. and the rest of the WHO will push the matter at Geneva over the next few days remains to be seen, but as a matter of immediate public health, few issues seem like they could possibly be more important.