21 May 2020

Reporting back: WHA73 and the global COVID-19 response

At a virtual abridged session of the World Health Assembly (WHA), Member States came together to adopt a resolution on the global responses to COVID-19, including key references to non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

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A virtual session of 73rd WHA was convened on the 18th and 19th May to discuss and adopt a resolution setting out the priority actions and goals for the global response to the coronavirus pandemic

The resolution was proposed by the European Union and was co-sponsored by over 100 Members States. The document sets out a framework for Member States, WHO and other stakeholders to respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, it calls on all actors to give particular consideration to the impact of COVID-19 on people living with pre-existing conditions like NCDs, HIV/AIDs, TB and disabilities, alongside preserving services for maternal and child health as these groups are either at a greater risk of infection or complications from COVID-19.

UICC is concerned about the current and potential long-term impacts of delays or suspensions in prevention care, vaccination, screening, early detection and treatment, as well as on community outreach and support. It is therefore pleased to have worked closely with other NCD and palliative care advocates to secure the inclusion of references to NCDs and palliative care in the resolution.

Call for government actions 

The resolution requests governments to take a series of actions that can support comprehensive cancer control during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include: 

  • developing and implementing national COVID-19 action plans to sustainably strengthen health systems, social care and support systems, preparedness, surveillance and response capacities (OP7.1, OP7.2);
  • maintaining essential health services, including the uninterrupted provision of services for NCDs and mental health (OP7.5);
  • providing access to safe testing, treatment, and palliative care for COVID-19, with particular attention to protecting those with pre-existing conditions like NCDs (OP7.7);
  • engaging the whole of society in the COVID-19 response, including communities and civil society organisations (OP7.1). 

The WHO has been tasked with providing and developing technical, communication and other support to countries in ensuring the safe functioning of health systems and maintaining essential services for non-communicable diseases, including cancer. Member states were overwhelmingly supportive of the importance of WHO’s mandate and role in assisting countries in their response to COVID-19. UICC will be working closely with WHO teams to support these resources. 

Follow up for UICC members

Important references in the resolution to whole-of-society approaches to COVID-19 and community engagement provide opportunities for national advocacy to safeguard the needs of cancer patients and support national COVID-19 responses, including: 

  • engaging governments to support the development and implementation of robust, comprehensive national COVID-19 action plans. Both WHO and Member States have recognised the important role that civil society organisations, like UICC members, can play in this process but organisations will need to be proactive and coordinate with other CSOs to make the best use of these opportunities; 
  • collecting data on the needs of cancer patients nationally. Many UICC members are actively supporting cancer patients through the pandemic, using these data will be essential to help make the case for integrating cancer services into national action plans; 
  • sharing guidelines and examples of success; use resources such as those collected by UICC, the International Cancer Control Partnership, COVID-19 and cancer intelligence hub and the emerging resources from WHO to structure and inform your advocacy. Also share examples of success in your country, or by your organisation so that other UICC members can learn more. 

There are also a number of outstanding agenda items, including the decade of healthy ageing and the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Intellectual Property. These are likely to be addressed during a second session of the World Health Assembly this autumn (date to be confirmed).

The resolution on the strategy for the elimination of cervical cancer is being considered under a silence procedure. If there are no objections or requests for revisions within the given timeframe, the resolution will be considered as accepted. Otherwise, it will be deferred to another session of the World Health Assembly.

Last update

Friday 22 May 2020

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