The 70th World Health Assembly 2017

Opening of the 70th World Health AssemblyThe 70th

As one of eight co-founders, and current Chair and CEO of DAI, I’ve been in Geneva this last week attending the 70th World Health Assembly (WHA). Professor Peter Mittler arrived yesterday as well.

The theme this year and a brief statement about what the World Health Assembly is about is below, and you can read much more about it on the WHO website, via the link of the title.

Health throughout the Life-course at WHA70

“The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO. It is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board. The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of the Organization, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget. The Health Assembly is held annually in Geneva, Switzerland.”

At this years World Health Assembly, the dementia community anticipate the Global Action Plan for a Public Health Approach to Dementia will be accepted at the WHA.

As The Global Action Plan is item 15.2 on the agenda, we have had no control of when the item will come up, and had hoped it would be on Friday, in order for us to witness this historic moment. It is one that people with dementia and advocacy organisations have campaigned on for many years.

DAI specifically campaigned for the plan to include a human rights based approach, so luckily, athough I cannot be here, Peter will still be here.  Although there is little evidence of human rights in the Final Action Plan, you can read our response to the Draft.

This was the announcement from Day 1 of the election at the World Health Assembly of Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as new WHO Director-General. I was pleased to be in the main Assembly hall to witness this, at the opening of the WHA.  You can also read many of the updates about the progress of the event on the WHO website about the progress and sessions held each day.

Throughout the week, I have attended many side events, including two hosted by the Non Communicable Diseases (NCDS’s) Alliance. Whilst dementia is a NCD, it was not mentioned once during these events, even though every risk factor for almost all of the other NCD’s is also a risk factor for dementia.

One side event I attended, “World Economic Forum” was is a very sobering session, as most of the panellists said our health system is broken around the world, and it is much worse for women. The gender bias makes this worse.

There are almost 30 events like this during the WHA, but the Chair of one of the Side events said quite clearly, that too often people go home, back to their jobs and nothing changes. He continued by saying too few people are TAKING ACTION, and there is also a general bias against women which often results in them being denied care,  because as women, they are treated as if their symptoms are not real.

On top of that, all too often, dementia remains the elephant in the room, in part due to people stating it is covered in mental illness. Dementia is not a mental illness, and as such, needs to receive its own specific attention, and we remain hopeful the Global Action Plan for a Public Health Approach to Dementia  will help ensure this.

Hopefully we will be able to announce its adoption early next week.

Kate Swaffer