Huge Support for Universal Health Coverage and NCD Measures, But WHO Replenishment Fund is Rejected
Universal health coverage
The delegate for Barbados addressing the World Health Assembly during discussions on universal health coverage.

An impossibly long list of member states lined up to address universal health coverage (UHC) and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at the World Health Assembly on Thursday afternoon, indicating the centrality of these issues for countries.

There was near-universal support for primary health services to be the backbone of UHC, with disease prevention as the other key pillar – particularly to prevent NCDs.

A number of countries including Canada, the US and Norway called for sexual and reproductive services accessible to young people to be included as part of primary health. 

Many member countries called for the three United Nations High-Level Meetings – on UHC, tuberculosis and pandemic preparedness – in September to be aligned with the WHO’s processes, including negotiations on a pandemic accord.

Huge support for WHO’s ‘Best Buys’

The WHO’s updated policy options and interventions to prevent and control NCDs – referred to as “Best Buys” – also enjoyed widespread support.

A number of Caribbean countries are at the forefront of fighting NCDs and obesity, including Barbados.

“Barbados is privileged to be one of the front-runner countries that WHO has identified to take part in the acceleration plan to stop obesity,” its delegate said.  

Barbados launched a national school nutrition policy in February “to address challenges related to poor dietary habits and lack of physical activity among schoolchildren”,  while its tax on sugary drinks introduced in 2015 resulted in a 4.3% reduction in their consumption.

Canada underlined the importance of integrating mental health into broader NCD prevention strategies but noted that stigma “remains a barrier to mental well-being globally, especially for younger people”. 

Norway called for strategies to fight NCDs to be “free from undue political and commercial influence”, something that NCD advocates lobbied for on the sidelines of the WHA.

No consensus on replenishment fund

However, the same spirit of agreement was absent in Committee B, with a divergence among member states’ opinions on a “replenishment mechanism” proposed by the WHO Director-General to ensure more sustainable financing of the organisation.

Member-states deliberated on different possible models of sustainable funding of the WHO, delaying agreement on a single, unified formula of a “replenishment mechanism”. 

The US made it clear that it did not support the replenishment mechanism – a view that ultimately held sway. It, however, expressed support to have rounds of investments by donors, similar to other global health organizations like The Global Fund. 

“We agreed to support planning for the secretariat’s proposed new initiative for sustainable financing for WHO with the understanding that we’ve moved to a more streamlined approach of innovative fundraising through an investment round, and that we’re not approving a replenishment mechanism for WHO,” stated the US. It is also widely believed that the country pushed for inclusion of “earmarked contributions” in the draft text of the resolution, in exchange for its support to the resolution. 

Switzerland supported the replenishment mechanism for the WHO, saying it had “considerable potential to strengthen the strategic use of funding and to guarantee predictability of financing for WHO’s operations in order to guarantee health for all”.

But, it also underlined that “earmarked contributions will remain vital to the funding of WHO for many member states” but that their use needs to be “traceable, transparent and efficient”. 

A decision on what mechanism should be adopted to bolster WHO’s finances is expected on Friday.

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