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WHA77 must drive global action to protect health from impact of rising threats

28 May 2024

Climate change and antimicrobial resistance will be prominent issues at the seventy-seventh World Health Assembly, taking place from 27 May to 1 June in Geneva.

A group of five women sit together in BangladeshA group of women participate in a training session about antimicrobial resistance in Bangladesh

The World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), determines the policies and strategies for tackling global health challenges — including malaria and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) — through international collaboration, vaccine development, and equitable distribution of treatments and preventive measures.

This year’s Assembly will see the adoption of a new global health strategy for 2025−2028, developed in partnership with 194 member states and partners. With only six years remaining to achieve the ambitions set out in the Sustainable Development Goals, the strategy must set a clear roadmap for how to bring members together around these common goals and get back on track to meet them. Crucial decisions are expected on health priorities including climate and health, access to transformative tools, and communicable diseases including malaria.

Malaria is endemic in many countries with limited resources, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America. The impact of this disease on endemic countries affects both economic growth and human development. Climate change and extreme weather events are exacerbating the risk of malaria outbreaks.

In Uganda, prolonged heavy rainfall is linked with increasing malaria outbreaks. Increased engagement is needed on the impact of climate alongside investment into projects that seek to build resilience against outbreaks through improved surveillance to inform early warning systems. One such example is the FORECAST project, in which Malaria Consortium in collaboration with Uganda Virus Research Institute and other partners, is seeking to strengthen Uganda's resilience by developing an early warning system that forecasts malaria and other mosquito-borne disease outbreak risks and maps high-risk areas.

"Our project demonstrates the urgent need for global action and investment in building resilient health systems. By enhancing outbreak preparedness, we can better protect communities from the escalating climate-health risks. This initiative is likely to serve as a model for other nations grappling with similar extreme climate-driven outbreak threats" commented Tarekegn Abeku, Malaria Consortium’s Principal Advisor and co-Principal Investigator of FORECAST.

During WHA77, member states will negotiate and aim to adopt a formal resolution on climate change and health. If passed, this resolution will outline actions for countries and the WHO to address the health impacts of climate change. Importantly, WHA delegates will have the opportunity to hear from partners, civil society and subject experts to discuss priorities and strategies at a WHO-hosted roundtable focusing on climate change and health on 1 June.

Alongside climate, countering antimicrobial resistance is also tabled for discussion at the Assembly. Both a social and biological problem, if left unchecked, AMR will render ineffective many commonly used treatments for infectious diseases. Although resistance to antimicrobials is a natural phenomenon, many human behaviours are increasing the pressure on microbes to develop resistance, which is resulting in a global health issue that requires collaborative action across all sectors.

Helen Hawkings, Malaria Consortium’s Social and Behaviour Change Specialist, commented: “Our (COSTAR) project in Bangladesh and Nepal exemplifies the 'One Health' approach being championed at the World Health Assembly, bringing together stakeholders from human health, animal health, agriculture and the environment. By pioneering innovative models like community dialogues, we are empowering local communities to identify contextual drivers of AMR and develop sustainable, tailored solutions. This community-led approach complements national antimicrobial resistance action plans and global strategies”.

The WHA77 will have a strategic roundtable discussion on charting a new path forward for global action against AMR through a collaborative One Health approach across human, animal and environmental health sectors. This discussion aims to build momentum towards unified priorities, policies and governance of antimicrobial use to address the severe threats AMR poses to human health, economies, food systems and the environment worldwide.

Given the interlinked challenges of climate change’s impact on disease outbreaks and the growing threat of AMR, it is important that the Assembly come away with agreement and a clear pathway for achieving sustainable progress collaboratively against these global health risks.

Watch the WHA77 proceedings live from the WHO webpage

Image by Russell Watkins/DFID

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Community-led solutions to antimicrobial resistance: A One Health approach in Bangladesh and Nepal

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