What did we learn from the 77th World Health Assembly?

Grayling’s global health team gives their take on this year’s WHA……

This year’s World Health Assembly was only the 2nd in-person Assembly since the pandemic and it was the efforts to get member states to sign up to a ‘pandemic treaty’ which took centre stage, despite their ultimate failure.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director-General, stressed this years’ Assembly was “one of the most significant in our 76-year history.” Although the lack of headlines in national media has perhaps not reflected this view. With a myriad of global health issues that urgently need addressing, the 194 WHA Member States did have  plenty to discuss, particularly for millions living in low- middle-income countries today.

The theme of this year’s Assembly was ‘All for Health, Health for All’ and, naturally, the issue of how to improve Universal Health Coverage and build on the momentum we’ve seen in recent years, was a key discussion point, along with variety of other topics including microbial resistance, HIV, obesity, tuberculosis vaccines and the impact of climate change on health. The latter now very much being deemed a global health issue – and echoing the decision by the UN to consider health impacts as part of its annual Climate Change Conference.

As well as the main WHA agenda, there were side events on wide-ranging subjects, from improving maternal and newborn health, to healthy ageing and improving access to assistive technology. Furthermore, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and partners including the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, discussed a new ‘Africa-led’ agenda for improving health decision-making across the continent. Convening country representatives and NGOs – the side events were, in many ways, just as critical as the main WHA agenda.

Key announcements and take-aways

Progress towards the Pandemic Treaty stalled:  Despite two years of negotiations and this being one of the goals of this year’s assembly, reforms to the global pandemic treaty floundered. Understandably, this captured much of the media attention. While Member States failed to agree on the text of an international pandemic accord by the 24th May deadline, they did agree on the final day of the assembly to complete negotiations on the agreement within a year. Whilst this has been deemed a failure by many commentators, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said member states ‘did their best’ and ‘should have no regrets.’

‘Historic’ changes to International Health Regulations: On the final day of the World Health Assembly, the 194 member countries agreed a package of critical amendments to the International Health Regulations. These aimed to help strengthen global preparedness, surveillance and responses to public health emergencies, including pandemics. Whilst less attention-grabbing than the pandemic treaty discussions, these were just as important and described as ‘historic’ by the WHO.

Global health strategy ‘fit for a challenging future’: The Assembly approved $11.1 billion in funding dedicated to global health, spread over four years to ‘promote, provide, and protect health and well-being for all people’. Referred to as GPW 14, the strategy for 2025 – 2028 (deemed as an ‘exceptional window’ by WHA), aims to help countries build more resilient health systems and to get back on course following the pandemic, for achieving the UN’s 2030 health Sustainable Development Goals.

Climate change and health: On the penultimate day Member States passed a landmark resolution recognising climate change as an imminent threat to global health. It emphasised the urgent need for decisive and radical measures to confront the profound health risks posed by climate change.

Tackling the global threat of microbial resistance: Delegates approved a resolution to accelerate national and global responses to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), described by some as a ‘silent pandemic’, ahead of the second UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on AMR this September. Delegates at the strategic roundtable discussed how to chart a new path forward for global action to address this increasing global threat.

TB Vaccine Acceleration: The second High-Level Meeting of the TB Vaccine Accelerator Council was convened, attended by ministers and representatives of countries including Brazil and the USA. The event concluded with the agreement on three key acceleration tracks to drive progress over the next two years and expedite the development, approval, access and deployment of new TB vaccines.

A stronger voice in primary health care: Member States agreed a new resolution on social participation in national health planning and implementation, which paves the way for people, communities, and civil society to have a stronger voice in influencing decisions affecting their health and well-being, especially in the wake of growing evidence which shows the potential of social participation to foster trust in health systems.

New President: The Assembly elected Dr Edwin Dikoloti Botswana’s Minister of Health, as its new President, with his department hoping it will ‘amplify the country’s voice and influence on health issues’.


The WHA of course can’t keep everyone happy, but there will be countries and advocacy organisations around the world disappointed that the issues they’re campaigning on didn’t receive more of a focus and crucially – commitment for the investment needed to really tackle them in the countries most impacted.

Malaria, for example, was discussed and the increasing threat of the disease, partly as a result of climate change, was called out as an urgent challenge. However, despite this, in a joint statement, African countries still pressed for greater political commitment and self-reliance in the fight against malaria, appealing for more predictable international aid that aligns with their national policies.

Whilst policy progress was undoubtedly made on some global health issues, the key of course is translating policy developments into meaningful action at country-level, that will actually improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people – in the next few years, not the next few decades.

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