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Swati Saxena

Senior Science and Innovation Adviser

Part of Global Science and Innovation Network

19th June 2015 New Delhi, India

World Health Assembly 68: a GREAT fortnight for global health

Guest Blogger: Dr. Himangi Bhardwaj, Senior Health Adviser for the FCO’s (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) network in India, and part of the official UK delegation to the World Health Assembly, reports on her maiden United Nations experience, and her exciting adventures!

The World Health Assembly 68 (WHA 68), organised from May 18 – 26, 2015 at the World Health Organization’s headquarters, Geneva, passed several landmark resolutions and decisions, including on antimicrobial resistance, Ebola, nutrition, malaria, air pollution, and International Health Regulations. A One HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) approach helped UK achieve key objectives in all these. The long road to implementation lies ahead – with a joint up approach across government and the FCO network crucial for success.

Geneva: The world in a city

CAM00242With delegates from 194 member states of WHO descending on the beautiful city of Geneva, this hub of global diplomacy (and cheese and chocolate!!) became an absolute global health capital of the world for the duration of the World Health Assembly. The Palais des Nations or the United Nations Office in Geneva served as the spectacular venue for these ten days of intense negotiations on issues of global importance.

As a first-timer to Geneva, it is difficult not to be over-awed by the surroundings and by the thought of seeing the hours you have spent in drafting and advocacy efforts actually take the shape of a resolution the world might agree to!

WHA 68: India’s presidency and the German commitment

The opening of the 68th assembly was all ceremonial splendour with Indian Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Sri Jagat Prakash Nadda assuming presidency of the assembly for 2015-16. He stressed on the critical importance of building and maintaining strong, resilient health systems, given the background of the Ebola outbreak and the earthquake in Nepal.

Angela Merkel, German Chancellor and special guest at the opening of the assembly, made a very strong statement in support of global cooperation for better health. Germany’s commitment to global health is clear from the focus it has brought to health by putting Ebola, poverty-related neglected tropical diseases, and resistance to antibiotics on the G7 agenda during its presidency.

A challenging agenda, Alpine air and day-night negotiations

CAM00401WHA 68 started with a very ambitious and challenging agenda, with the Ebola outbreak raising many questions about the role of the WHO and the need for reform, and the year 2015 seeing the end of the millennium development goals. Margaret Chan, Director General WHO, detailed in her opening address the complex global health challenges facing humanity, including from related issues like climate change, and poverty; and urged member nations to work towards greater global cooperation for better health.

Thus the assembly began its deliberations and negotiations through committee A (technical and health matters) and committee B (financial and management issues), debating and approving the texts of resolutions which were then submitted to the plenary meeting where all the delegates to the World Health Assembly, listened to reports, and adopted the resolutions transmitted by the committees. It was fascinating to see the process of arriving at words which would affect the health of the entire world… and which were spoken in so many different, intriguing languages. Hats off to the translators for making sure we knew what we were talking about!

The Alpine air must have a role to play in the stamina and enthusiasm shown by delegates from all 194 member states in negotiating key resolutions, not only during the day but also sometimes, through the night!

The fight against AMR: a GREAT example

A landmark moment in global health was the culmination of UK’s two year campaign against antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the adoption of the first ever Global Action Plan to tackle AMR by the WHA 68. This was one of our top priorities for the WHA and the first major deliverable of our cross-government AMR international strategy. The Prime Minister’s support, Chief Medical Officer’s conviction, and the strength of the One HMG network were crucial to the success of this campaign. The strong leadership and commitment – financial, technical, and political, shown by UK to support the global fight against AMR also helped us in gaining tremendous respect from developing and developed countries alike. We continue to work closely with the cross government network, and the Indian government, for effective implementation of the Global Action Plan.

The UN experience and the UK advantage

UKProfessionally and personally, this was a huge learning experience, which started about two years back when I began working closely with the team in Geneva to support our cross-government AMR international strategy. This has meant working closely with Indian policy makers, negotiating for their support on health issues of global importance and also functioning effectively as a member of the global team on AMR; which eventually created this opportunity for me to not only participate in the World Health Assembly as a member of the UK delegation, but also make my first-ever intervention at the United Nations!

As I work on cementing the relationships made during the assembly, particularly with the Indian Health Minister and his office, I will always remember WHA 68 as my first real life lesson in multilateral diplomacy and policy-making, and for my first opportunity to represent UK to delegations from the entire world (and become a minor facebook celebrity in the process!).

About Swati Saxena

Swati is a Senior Science and Innovation Adviser, based in New Delhi. She provides a dedicated support to the UK stakeholders in establishing R&D linkages with India, particularly in research…

Swati is a Senior Science and Innovation Adviser, based in New Delhi. She provides a dedicated support to the UK stakeholders in establishing R&D linkages with India, particularly in research related to food production. She brings strong expertise in agricultural research to the role. Prior to joining the Science and Innovation India team, Swati actively engaged with Indian Government agencies and academics involved in agri-research while working as a regulatory officer for Monsanto, a US-based agricultural multinational firm. She was part of the core group that enabled commercialisation of India’s first genetically modified crop. By building long-term relationships across the government and academics with contacts ranging from the senior policymakers to high calibre scientists with a strong track record in their fields, Swati is well-placed to act as a facilitator to build the technology linkages. Swati has an academic background in genetics.

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