Annual World Health Assembly Highlights Global Health Burden

May 20, 2013 – The annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the governing body of the World Health Organization, which opened in Geneva on Monday provides an interesting overview of the current global health situation and priorities for the years ahead.

The proposed $3.9 billion budget for the 2014-15 biennium includes an eight percent reduction in the budget for communicable diseases, with cuts in the HIV/Aids and Tuberculosis budgets, and a 20 percent increase in the budget to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs), aimed reducing the prevalence of cancer, cardio-vascular diseases and substance abuse.

The reduction in the HIV/Aids budget reflects the significant progress made in reducing new infections – a 20 percent overall decrease since 2003, including a 40 percent decrease in new infections among children over that period. Anti-retroviral drugs now reach eight million people living with HIV, up from two million in 2006.

The increase in the NCDs budget is indicative of the growing burden on health systems and the related increase in mortality: some two-thirds of the estimated 60 million deaths annually are a result of non-communicable diseases.

Among the primary aims of the increased NCDs budget is reducing harmful alcohol use, reducing tobacco use, and increasing mental health awareness and treatment – particularly in low-income countries. WHO’s mental health action plan notes that almost half the world’s population lives in countries where there is just one psychiatrist for 200,000 or more people.

Some facts and figures from documents and resolutions that will be discussed and voted on at the WHA over the next week:

– Close to 900,000 people commit suicide each year

– Between 76 precent and 85 percent of people with severe mental disorders receive no treatment for their in low-income and middle-income countries

– Between 2000 and 2011 the reported incidence of measles decreased globally by 65 percent, in tandem with more vaccinations

30 percent of married women in the West Bank and 51 percent of married women in the Gaza Strip had experienced violence from their husbands in the preceding 12 months

– As of Feb. 14 2013 the numbers of both cases of polio and countries experiencing cases were at their lowest-ever recorded levels: Globally, 222 cases had been reported in 2012, a 66% decline compared with 2011. Five countries reported cases in 2012 compared with 16 in 2011

– About 16 million adolescent girls between 15 years and 19 years give birth each year. Babies born to adolescent mothers account for roughly 11% of all births worldwide

– Denis Fitzgerald