64th World Health Assembly approves three WASH resolutions

The 64th World Health Assembly (WHA) has adopted a resolution on drinking-water, sanitation and health, and two other related resolutions on cholera and Guinea worm (dracunculiasis).

Yael Velleman at the WHA in Geneva with a copy of the WaterAid report "The sanitation problem - What can and should the health sector do". Photo: WaterAid

WaterAid had issued a call to leaders participating in the WHA in Geneva to prioritise sanitation and water in the fight against diseases including cholera and dracunculiasis. In support of their campaign, WaterAid published a new report
The sanitation problem: What can and should the health sector do?. WaterAid’s Senior Health Policy Analyst Yael Velleman wrote an opinion piece in the Guardian and posted daily updates from the WHA.

Velleman noted the following highlights of resolution WHA64.24 on Drinking-Water, Sanitation and Health:

  • Recognition of the scale of the challenge of access to WASH globally
  • Recognition of the multiple health benefits and economic advantages of WASH
  • Reference to and recommendations for action for progressive realisation of the Human Rights Council resolution on the human right to water and sanitation
  • Recommendation to Member States to develop and strengthen national public health strategies to highlight the importance of WASH in disease prevention; and on provision of WASH in health centres, schools and other public buildings
  • Recommendation to the WHO Director General to formulate a new, integrated WHO strategy for water, sanitation and health

The WHO Secretariat will report on implementation of the resolution to the next World Health Assembly in 2012.

From resolution WHA64.15 “Cholera: mechanism for control and prevention”, Velleman posted these highlights:

  • Earlier drafts of the resolution focused heavily on the role of oral cholera vaccines; the final version provides strong recommendations on the need for water, sanitation and hygiene interventions, which are decidedly irreplaceable by vaccines
  • Recognition of the role of natural disasters, lack of WASH, food contamination, unplanned settlements, poor health systems and healthcare, and poverty, in the spread of the disease
  • Recommendation to Member States to consider health, hygiene, water, sanitation and environmental issues as integral and interrelated parts of development policies and plans, and accordingly to allocate resources and undertake action
  • Emphasis on inter-sectoral action to prevent and control cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases
  • Recommendations to the WHO Director General to respond to country needs and to revitalise the Global Taskforce on Cholera Control, as well as promote ongoing behaviour change interventions, including on food, water and sanitation safety measures

Resolution WHA64.15 on “Eradication of dracunculiasis eradication” was “weak” in comparison” says Velleman:

although it did mention the need for safe drinking water as part of the eradication strategy, it failed to acknowledge the ongoing challenges in access to safe drinking water in the endemic countries.

Velleman concludes that the WHA

has been a positive step forward for WASH advocacy in the ongoing discussion on the role of WASH in health and human development. The discussions which took place around the resolutions demonstrated that there is increasing recognition of the need for better, more cross-sectoral ways of working if the international community is to make real progress, especially on child health.

More than 2700 delegates, including Health Ministers and senior health officials, NGOs and civil society groups attended the 64th World Health Assembly (WHA), which took place from 16–24 May 2011 in Geneva, Switzerland. The WHA is the forum through which the World Health Organization (WHO) is governed by its 193 member states. It is the world’s highest health policy setting body and is composed of health ministers from member states.

Related web pages:

Source: Yael Velleman, World Health Assembly blog, 16-25 May 2011 ; WHO, 24 May 2011

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