The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the decision-making body of WHO. It is an annual meeting attended by World Health Organization (WHO) Member States, the relevant WHO staff and teams and non-State actors, such as FDI.
The 76th Session of the annual WHA (WHA76) took place from 21–30 May 2023, in Geneva, Switzerland. The theme of this year's assembly was “Saving lives, driving health for all” and it coincided with commemoration of WHO's 75th anniversary. Through its participation at WHA76, FDI put the spotlight on some of the world’s biggest health challenges.
“Applause for health workers cannot substitute the fundamental need to invest and act” – FDI cautions governments
During WHA76, WHO organized Strategic Roundtables which brought together governments, experts from WHO, partner agencies and civil society to discuss the challenges and solutions for selected long-standing public health problems.
FDI was a speaker at a Strategic Roundtable titled “Protecting and investing in the health and care workforce: An action-oriented agenda for the second half of the SDGs”. In a speech delivered on behalf of FDI’s President, Prof. Ihsane Ben Yahya, Mr Enzo Bondioni, FDI’s Executive Director, reminded participants that ensuring a robust and competent health workforce remains a driver for all global health goals. He reiterated the findings in a WHO report which notes that as many as 180,000 health and care workers could have died from COVID-19. He also flagged that health and care workers have yet to be engaged sufficiently in global, regional, and national health reforms, including in the decision-making process regarding the regulation of healthcare delivery during the pandemic. He cautioned that years of applause cannot replace the urgent need to invest and act if the world is to attain the goals for universal health coverage and global health security.
Strengthened evidence for oral diseases and noncommunicable diseases prevention
WHA76 approved an update of the menu of policy options and cost-effective interventions for prevention and control of major noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and their risk factors (also known as “Appendix 3” or “the NCDs best-buys”). Appendix 3 focuses on the four key risk factors for NCDs – tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity – and the four main associated diseases – cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease.
What does this update mean for oral diseases?
Oral diseases are caused by the modifiable risk factors common to the major NCDs - tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy diet, and poor oral hygiene. Therefore, the updated Appendix 3 represents an opportunity to prevent and control oral diseases. Furthermore, Appendix 3 recommends oral cancer screening backed with timely diagnostic work-up and comprehensive cancer treatment in high-risk groups. For head and neck cancer, it recommends early diagnosis programmes linked with timely diagnostic work-up and comprehensive cancer treatment.
Why is this update important?
The WHO Secretariat has updated the 2017 update of Appendix 3 to reassure governments that the interventions recommended for the prevention and control of NCDs remain relevant. The updated Appendix 3 consists of 90 interventions (including 58 interventions with cost-effectiveness estimates). This is an improvement on the previous version which had a total of 88 interventions (with 39 interventions backed with cost-effectiveness estimates). The latest Appendix 3 is also based on the evidence and data from 62 countries representing all three national income categories. This is also an important change compared to the 20 countries assessed for the previous version.
WHA76 requested that the next draft updated Appendix 3 should be submitted to the 80th World Health Assembly through the Executive Board at its 160th session, in 2027. WHO shall also incorporate revised interventions to Appendix 3 on a continuous basis when data are available.
Furthermore, the landmark Resolution on oral health (WHA74.5) adopted by the 74th World Health Assembly in May 2021 also requests WHO to develop “best buy” interventions on oral health by 2024. FDI will monitor the progress of this important resource to ensure it gets the attention it deserves globally.
WHA76 notes the Global Oral Health Action Plan (2023 –2030), pledges to reorient their health systems based on primary health care
WHA76 reviewed a report on the progress towards the achievement of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030 as part of the preparations for the second United Nations High-Level Meeting on UHC in September 2023. The report notes that most countries have committed to UHC through laws and national plans but failed to back it up with adequate public financing for health. Consequently, many countries continue to be offtrack for the achievement of UHC by 2030, and the COVID-19 pandemic took a significant toll on the limited progress made and increased the number of people living in extreme poverty.
In a statement delivered on behalf of FDI and the International Association for Dental Research, FDI reminded governments that health systems without oral health fail on the health system performance dimensions of equity, quality, responsiveness, efficiency, and resilience. FDI also urged governments to integrate oral health and oral health research into national NCDs and UHC agendas and ensure access to a basic package of essential oral health services at the primary care level.
WHA76 also noted WHO's Global Oral Health Action Plan (2023–2030) and FDI called on governments to prepare for the annual progress report due from 2024.
Read FDI's statement on UHC and NCDs
WHO Member States endorse the first global strategy on infection prevention and control
WHA76 also adopted the first-ever global strategy for infection prevention. It provides Member States and all relevant stakeholders with strategic guidance on how to significantly reduce the ongoing risk of health care-associated infections, including those that drive antimicrobial resistance.
It is noteworthy that continued education for health and care workers is proposed as one of the strategic directions for the new global strategy. Dentists are responsible for prescribing around 10 per cent of all antibiotics to humans. FDI convened a group of oral health experts to provide health professionals guidance on addressing antimicrobial resistance. This Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Working Group continues to build the capacity of FDI members and collaborate with WHO to address infection prevention and control.
In its statement on this agenda item, FDI commended WHO Member States for the vision to ensure “everyone accessing or providing health care is safe from associated infections by 2030” and urged governments to leverage FDI’s expertise, resources, and network while developing and implementing national infection prevention and control policies.
Read FDI's statement on infection prevention and control
FDI will continue its advocacy efforts on these new and existing commitments on oral diseases and NCDs.
Reporting the progress of the Action Plan starts in 2024
Paragraph 39 of the draft Global Oral Health Action Plan (2023–2030) states that “Annually, WHO will report back to the World Health Assembly on progress and results of the Global Oral Health Action Plan as part of the consolidated report on NCDs, in accordance with paragraph 3(e) of decision WHA72(11). Every three years (starting in 2024), WHO will submit a comprehensive report on progress on implementing the Global Oral Health Action Plan, including collation of data on the core indicators and progress achieved towards the global targets.”
FDI urges National Dental Associations to partner and support governments of this important reporting activity and will partner with WHO to promote its importance through different platforms.
Progress on Noma expected in 2023
The resolution on oral health adopted at the 74th WHA in 2021 recommends that Noma will be considered in the WHO-led review process to determine additional diseases to include in the road map for neglected tropical diseases. The formal process to include Noma in WHO’s neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) list is underway.
In January 2023, the Federal Ministry of Health of Nigeria, supported by 30 Member States from all WHO regions, submitted a dossier of the evidence that supports the adoption of Noma as a NTD. The WHO’s Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for NTDs will make a final decision later this year. FDI will continue to partner with WHO and other experts to build the capacity of its members for the prevention and control of Noma.
Read more about Noma here
Read FDI’s Policy Statement on Noma