The Union at the 70th World Health Assembly, Geneva

As the 70th World Health Assembly (WHA) concludes, The Union looks to the new leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO) to guide the next era of health solutions around the world, and urges all those attending to make tuberculosis a priority in the year leading up to the United Nation’s high-level meeting on TB in 2018.

We congratulate the new Director-General of the WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and encourage him to implement much needed reform.

Throughout the WHA, The Union called for faster and more innovative approaches to ending all forms of TB, as well as redoubled efforts to tackle non-communicable diseases, collaboration in tobacco control and for a right to health for everybody. 

Tuberculosis (TB)

TB was discussed at numerous sessions during the WHA, with a particular view to the UNGA High-Level Meeting on TB in 2018.

In an address to the Assembly, the Mexican delegation informed those attending of their support for the Union’s World Conference on Lung Health, in Guadalajara in October this year


At an official side event of the World Health Assembly co-hosted by the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation and the Department of Health, Republic of South Africa, those attending heard about the 3P Project from The Union’s Grania Brigden, who said:

"For the TB treatments of the future we need a healthy drug pipeline, adequate investment, collaboration and treatments available to all. Unfortunately this is not the case currently. 3P is an important step towards addressing these issues."

The panel – made up of The Honourable Minister of the Russian Federation, Prof. V. Skvortsova; Director General of Health of South Africa, Dr M. P. Matsoso; Director of Global TB Programme, Dr Mario Raviglione; The Union’s Grania Bridgen; Senior Health Advisor, USAID, Dr A. A. Thwin; and Ms J Ginnard from UNITAID - discussed the urgent need to accelerate TB R&D

Director General of Health of South Africa, Dr M. P. Matsoso – whose delegation later spoke of 3P to the Assembly - said: “Let us be counted and come up with a footprint that says ‘Yes we did it, we ended TB.”

This call to action was echoed by The Union in an intervention read out to the Assembly urging Member States to ensure WHO guidance is rapidly adopted and implemented to establish timely scale-up and access to new tools for TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment, including the 9-month MDR-TB treatment regimen recommended by WHO in May 2016.

Furthermore, as part of a session responding to a report from the Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development, The Union welcomed the Secretariat exploring the possibility of organising a specific high-level event in 2017 with the purpose of promoting increased investment into research and development funding in under-funded areas such as TB.  

We outlined to those attending that in 2015, TB was the number-one fatal infectious disease,  precipitating a desperate need for new vaccines, diagnostics and treatments, yet investment in R&D in 2015 for new TB tools decreased by over US$50M to US$620million, reaching its lowest level since 2008.

Antimicrobial resistance and the Priority Pathogen List

In an intervention during a session on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), The Union highlighted to the Assembly that we are battling daily with the challenge of preventing, diagnosing and treating drug-resistant TB. For many countries where Union members and beneficiaries are based, drug-resistant TB is the resistant infection for which they are at highest risk. Current vaccines, diagnostics and treatments are grossly inadequate. Drug-resistant TB is a crisis.

The intervention went on to say that the response to AMR therefore must include a strong response to TB. Although the WHO has recently restated the importance of fighting TB as a priority pathogen, the exclusion of TB from its official list of priority antibiotic-resistant pathogens remains problematic.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs)

José Luis Castro spoke at a number of events in his role as Executive Director of The Union and President of the NCD Alliance, highlighting the global threat to health from NCDs.

At an event hosted by Sanofi, JL Castro said: “Greater success will come only if we take the critical step of deepening our alliances and pinpointing the innovations that will build capacity for preventing NCDs at national and regional levels.”

At the Global Psoriasis Coalition side-event, he gave the keynote address about the ‘Policy landscape around psoriasis as “the 5th NCD” in the global agenda’ saying:

“It is time to recognise that psoriasis is a non-communicable disease, and to recognise IFPA’s long commitment to the more than 125 million people worldwide who live with this severe and often disabling disease. It is time to include psoriasis in the global response to NCDs.”

The Union with the NCD Alliance read out an intervention as part of the Assembly consideration on the health of migrants, saying:

‘Delivering quality, timely health care to migrants and refugees is essential to the 2030 Agenda mandate to ‘leave no-one behind’. NCDs and mental and neurological health problems pose an acute threat to health in emergency settings: most NCDs require regular treatment over a prolonged period, while failure to provide such treatment in the short term can be fatal.’

The intervention went on to urge WHO and Member States to include actions to ensure availability of NCD medicines and care alongside those for infectious diseases, implement measures to minimise exposure to NCD risk factors, and strengthen health systems

Global Charter for Lung Health and World Lung Day

The Union’s José Luis Castro launched the world’s first Global Charter for Lung Health at a side event at the World Health Assembly, attended by Uruguay’s Public Health Minister.

The meeting was sponsored by the Forum of International Respiratory Societies, the International Society for Urban Health, the WHO Global Alliance Against Chronic Respiratory Diseases, The Union, Vital Strategies, and the NCD Alliance. And was moderated by Nandita Murukulta, Vital Strategies’ Vice President of Global Policy and Research.

JL Castro said: “The Charter will bring vital attention to lung health in the 21st Century, and promote greater awareness about the misery and burden of ill health that respiratory diseases cause worldwide every day.”

All those attending were encouraged to sign the Charter, and to also support a call for a World Lung Day on 25 September each year to help focus attention and resources on an often overlooked threat to global health.

Tobacco Control

During the same side event, an expert panel emphasised the global burden of lung disease and prevention strategies, including reduction in tobacco use.

Dr Jorge Basso, Minister of Public Health, Uruguay, spoke on the efforts made in Uruguay in the fight against tobacco, and how to meet the challenge of tobacco interference. He said:

“We need a very strong political will to face tobacco industry interference and there needs to be passion on behalf of civil society to build sustainability into the measures we are moving forward with. All these measures are strong and robust when people take ownership of them. Governments come and go, but the only thing that remains is the people when they take ownership of wanting to have a smoke free environment.”

In an intervention, The Union called for attention of the Member States to the fact that the tobacco epidemic is not a health issue only – it is an economic issue, a human rights issue, an environmental issue – a development issue.

We urged ministries of health to engage with colleagues in ministries of finance, trade and agriculture to mobilise and work together on tobacco control and halt this global health catastrophe. We stated that the message is clear: protecting and promoting the health of this generation, and those of the future, is irreconcilable with protecting and promoting the interests of the tobacco industry.

This 70th World Health Assembly saw changes with potential to help progress toward our goals of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and ending TB.

As we advance towards the historic UN first high-level meeting on TB in 2018, The Union will continue to advise WHO policy and take the momentum from the WHA on to the 48th World Conference on Lung Health in Guadalajara, Mexico,11-14 October this year. Here the global health community will come together to accelerate progress towards the elimination of TB and lung disease. Progress and dialogue will be developed further in 2018, when the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health will be held 7-9 March, Cape Town, South Africa