After an entire week of attending plenaries, committee meetings, side events, and creepily eavesdropping on other people’s conversations at the coffee bar, I’ve come to one conclusion.  The World Health Assembly is one huge ball.  Countries are constantly waltzing around each other and bowing to each other, but never really getting to the meat of things.

This week, I had the chance to attend the Committee A meetings on WHO reform.  Each country was given the opportunity to make a three-minute statement on the WHO reform report, including any agreements, disagreements and suggestions.  Countries began making their statements as planned, and then there was an interruption by Switzerland.  The Swiss delegate suggested that each country present on only the first aspect of the WHO reform paper, then after all countries had made their statements, the committee could move on to the second and third parts.  In

 theory, this would be a great idea, and would make things much easier to follow, but it is so hard to get the countries to stay within their three-minute limit as it is.  The next forty minutes of the committee session was spent on countries going back and forth over whether or not the reform topics should be discussed all at once, or separately.  Finally, Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan, decided that each country would have 3 minutes to present their entire statement as previously decided.

After what seemed like an eternity, I was ready for the action to start.  But still, it wasn’t what I expected.  It felt like each country spent that first minute and a half of their allotted three minutes to thanking people.  I understand that etiquette is especially important in these situations, especially when so many different cultures are involved, but at the same time, it is a bit frustrating to see things moving so slowly.

On a happier note, congratulations to the NCD Alliance for getting many major countries to adopt the 25 by 25 target!

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Comment by Phillip Baker on May 30, 2012 at 6:26

Thanks Megala. You are so right - it is like on big ball room dance! Maybe, in the interests of furthering international relations for global health, a ball could go a long way. Imagine dancing with DG Chan, or the Health Minister from  your country - what questions one might ask while waltzing =) ??? But on a serious note, what you have highlighted is just how tricky making international health policy is. 

Comment by Greg Paton on May 31, 2012 at 4:55

Thanks for the mention. It was an amazing group effort on the 25 by 2025 target - here's the update we sent out: http://goo.gl/5H1RR

Your observations remind me of Richard Horton's editorial on the WHA this week, which are worth a read:

This was the week of the World Health Assembly. The week when Ministers from over 190 nations came to Geneva to debate resolutions that will set and shape the agenda for global health over the next year and beyond. The real action is not in the main hall of the Palais des Nations, the Parliament of Global Health. Power is instead traded in “bilaterals”, across a myriad of side rooms where governments duel and deal based on national, not multilateral, interests. The Palais has ambiguous symbolism. As a home to the League of Nations, it represents the spirit of international cooperation. But the League of Nations was also a disastrous political failure. Some worry this fate now faces WHO—gradual dissolution thanks to member-state indifference and managerial ineptitude.  (full article at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2812...)

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