If one is looking for a simple analogy that explains the importance of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Assembly (WHA) then this will be it. The WHA is the main decision body of the WHO comprising of representatives of 195 countries (member states), who come together to agree on the organization’s priorities and policies, in addition to getting reports on WHO’s progress in implementing previously set areas of work and planning next steps.[1]

From 22-28 May 2022, the 75th edition of the WHA (WHA75) was held in Geneva, Switzerland as the first in-person event since the start of COVID-19 under the theme Health for Peace, Peace for Health. The theme was highly relevant given the complex humanitarian crises ongoing in diverse parts of the world. This was particularly emphasized during the opening ceremony where several speakers highlighted the importance of maintaining peace worldwide to avoid to the negative socioeconomic and health systems effects that ensue from conflict. As was emphasized by the WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, peace is a prerequisite for health.

WHA75 was particularly significant with not only the re-election of the WHO Director General, Dr Tedros for a second five-year term that commences in August 2022; but also, the announcement of the five priority areas for the WHO during his new term:

  1. To support countries to make a radical shift towards promoting health and well-being and preventing disease by addressing its root causes;
  2. To support a reorientation of health systems towards primary health care as the foundation of universal health coverage;
  3. To strengthen the capacities, systems and tools for health emergency preparedness, response and resilience at all levels, underpinned by strong governance and financing and coordinated globally by WHO;
  4. To harness the power of science, research innovation, data and digital technologies as critical enablers of the other priorities; and
  5. To empower WHO as the directing and coordinating authority on global health, at the centre of global health architecture.

The five priority areas were highlighted during the various WHA75 side events that were held either in-person or hybrid throughout the week. As is the norm, the side events highlighted the importance of public-private-partnerships both during the planning and execution of the sessions, some of which were led by WHO while others were led by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).

Furthermore, there were deliberations on key WHO documents such as the implementation road map 2023–2030 for the global action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases which highlighted the financing and other gaps in the management of NCDs globally. These global level discussions drew commonalities to insights shared during AHB Webinar Series, Reinforce: Solutions to Overcome NCD Challenges in Africa’s Primary Healthcare Systems where 13% of the webinar attendees stated that healthcare financing is the health systems building block that needed the most investment to tackle the NCD crises in Africa.

There were also discussions on human resources for health where the Working for Health 2022–2030 Action Plan was launched that highlighted the role of engaging stakeholders through inclusive cross-sectoral dialogue of both public and private sectors. Furthermore, the action plan emphasised that countries can achieve their goals though the active engagement and collaboration of the health, finance, labour, education, foreign affairs, and other social affairs sectors, as well as development partners, civil society and the private sector.

In conclusion, the UN body also released the WHO Results Report 2020-2021 that highlighted the work for the past biennium and amplified the organization’s efforts towards accountability and implementation of their five priority areas.

As Dr Tedros’ new mandate starts in August 2022, all eyes are on the WHO and their efforts towards the five priority areas as well as their efforts and collaboration with the private sector for achievement of the triple billion targets of 2018:  That by 2023, one billion more people are benefiting from universal health coverage; one billion more people are better protected from health emergencies and one billion more people are enjoying better health and well-being.