Resolution on Health of Indigenous Peoples Approved by WHA
Indigenous Peoples
The 76th World Health Assembly approved a milestone decision on the health of indigenous populations, but a global plan will not be presented until year.

In a milestone decision at the 76th World Health Assembly (WHA76), a resolution aimed at addressing health challenges faced by indigenous peoples worldwide has been approved. With it, the Director-General of the WHO has been directed to develop a comprehensive global action plan dedicated to improving their health outcomes by 2026.

Indigenous peoples, encompassing a rich tapestry of diverse population groups and communities around the world, have long endured significant disparities in health compared to non-indigenous populations, WHO says. 

They face lower life expectancy rates and a higher prevalence of various diseases and adverse health conditions, including diabetes, maternal and infant mortality, and malnutrition, cardiovascular illnesses, HIV/AIDS and others. Disability rates are sometimes 20-33% higher than those of the general population, the WHA resolution notes.

In the United States, indigenous populations reportedly have higher rates of asthma, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and dementia than the general U.S. population and these chronic medical conditions put individuals at more risk for illness and injury as the climate changes.

Calls for ethical engagement with indigenous communities

Rural Amazonia communities at risk in Peru (MMV/Damien Schumann).

The WHA resolution calls on countries and other actors to ensure “full, effective and equal participation of Indigenous Peoples” in the development of strategies and action plans concerning their communities. 

The same principles hold for WHO’s development of a Global Plan of Action for the Health of Indigenous Peoples, the resolution states. It should include consultation with “Member States, Indigenous Peoples, relevant United Nations and multilateral system agencies, as well as civil society, academia and other stakeholders.”

In addition, the resolution also mandates the WHO to extend support to Member States, upon their request, with respect to efforts to enhance indigenous health.  Such support may include sharing expertise, resources, and best practices to facilitate the implementation of national health plans, strategies, or other measures tailored specifically for indigenous population, the resolution states. 

The resolution also recommended the integration of improvement of indigenous peoples’ health within the framework of the WHO’s next five year work plan, or the 14th WHO General Programme of Work, 2024-2029.

Member States also are asked to actively develop knowledge about the health situation of indigenous peoples, following the principles of free, prior, and informed consent. The resolution notes that by engaging with indigenous communities respectfully and ethically, countries can gain a deeper understanding of their unique health challenges, paving the way for more targeted interventions and policies.

And the resolution encourages WHO Member States to “invest in and implement national health plans, strategies, or measures” that specifically address the health needs of indigenous populations. This includes “attraction, training, recruitment, and retention of indigenous peoples as health workers,” recognizing and valuing their traditional knowledge and practices. 

A significant milestone

The resolution was co-sponsored by an eclectic collection of 15 developed and developing nations with large indigenous populations, along with the European Union. They included: Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador, along with several other Latin American nations. 

During their deliberations, WHO member states described the resolution as a significant milestone in the global pursuit of health equity and the protection of indigenous rights. 

Countries also shared their experiences to date, in efforts to improve the health of indigenous communities. “Our institutions are trying to adapt it to the specific needs of healthcare for indigenous peoples through amending legislation, through providing better health programs, and through ensuring that indigenous health is a cross-cutting issue in all our policies,” Chile told the WHA.

In another remark, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) delegate told the committee that sexual and reproductive health needs and rights of indigenous peoples must be upheld. 

Addressing structural racism, sexism and discrimination, ensuring access to disaggregated data and working in partnership with civil society, are also key to advancing the rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UNFPA delegate said.

Image Credits: (MMV/Damien Schumann).

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