The 66th World Health Assembly (WHA), organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), will be taking place in Geneva 20 - 28 May 2013. African delegations must now be busy preparing to participate in this important annual conference on the health of the people of the world. WHO and the WHA remain the most important health institutions in global health despite the challenges WHO faces at the present time. In all the sub-Saharan African countries, there is a senior public health specialist who is resident as the WHO Country Representative with supporting staff and available at all times to provide technical advice as well as technical assistance to the governments and countries. I found this WHO office to be of immense value during my time as Director General of Health Services in the Ministry of Health in Uganda.
Africa therefore needs to take these annual WHA meetings seriously with a view to contributing more effectively as well as getting the most from the assemblies. The principal agenda items for this year for Committee A include non-communicable diseases, MDGs and the post 2015 agenda, progress with health workforce developments including a report on migration, social determinants of health, disease surveillance and universal health coverage. On top of these, there are deliberations in Committee B on the governance of the WHO that African delegations need to take equally seriously.
There are also many side events that are valuable for learning and networking from which African countries can benefit significantly. It is advisable to look these up, before leaving home and to plan to participate in them in advance. The other equally very useful activity for the delegates is targeted meetings with other delegations, bilateral and multilateral agencies. On arrival, informal contacts and networking with these other delegates may point to other activities that are important but not known before leaving home. There are exhibitions by different departments at WHO with personnel stationed there to make explanations and I recommend delegations spend time looking at the exhibitions. Flexibility should be built into the work plan to ensure that those that matter to the country delegation are covered.
African delegations are encouraged to network constructively with delegates from all other countries to form principled alliances over the agenda before, during and after the meetings so that WHO which brings all countries together can become a truly international and effective organization as originally envisioned by the founding members.
In the past, in this column, we discussed a similar topic and emphasized the need for meticulous preparation for this and other meetings. We got some advice from the online discussion Forum and I would like to reproduce the message from Professor Adetokunbo Lucas in which he described a four step process for managing international meetings as follows:
To what extent are the representatives attending the conference prepared to engage meaningfully in the discussion at the meeting? To what extent have they reviewed relevant documents and consulted other experts within and outside the Ministry? To what extent are they prepared to define and express the national position at the meeting? How has the delegation been constituted? Has it included key non-government players such as civil society and academia? Some of these could be assigned roles to play.
To what extent is the national delegation able to make meaningful contributions to the discussions keeping in mind the responsibility to implement agreed decisions?
To what extent are the reports from the conference and the national plan disseminated to all those who need to know within and outside the Ministry?
Has a feasible plan been developed to implement the decisions of the conference?
Who will write the official report for the meeting and by when? A review meeting should be held within two weeks after return home.
This is food for thought and I wish you all prosperous deliberations at the 66th WHA and at other international meetings in which you will be taking part in the future. Additional tips and comments are welcome.