The World Health Organization (WHO) will begin on Monday the 74th edition of its annual assembly, which will have a busy agenda focused on the pandemic of the coronavirus, but that does not forget critical issues of public health, such as the prices of medicines and the advance of chronic diseases.

Universal health coverage is one of the great objectives that the WHO It has been promoting for years, in accordance with the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, but the delay is obvious and the pandemic highlighted the way in which this increases the vulnerability of countries.

Another central issue on the assembly’s agenda, which will be virtual for the second year, will be non-communicable diseases, which in normal times represent 70% of the burden of disease worldwide, with millions of patients suffering from the interruption of their treatments due to the health emergency.

Between May 24 and June 1, health authorities and experts from the 194 member states of the WHO They will also focus on the issue of the impact that the pandemic has had on the mental health of the population and, in particular, of the youth.

The deficit of 80 million health workers is another great cause for concern and the countries are negotiating the terms of a resolution that will address this problem and its possible solutions, to be submitted to the assembly for approval.

On the side of chronic diseases, a resolution is expected on diabetes and, on the side of infectious pathologies, another is being prepared on tuberculosis, one of the diseases in which the problem of resistance to antibiotics has become more serious.

In the exclusive sphere of the pandemic, the most important question on which the assembly will have to decide is whether or not to open negotiations to draft an international treaty to face future pandemics.

This is one of the recommendations made by the Independent Pandemic Preparedness and Response Panel, which examined the failures in crisis management for eight months and issued its final report last week.

The main legal advisor of the WHO, Steve Solomon, explained to the press that a treaty (if the proposal goes ahead) will not replace the current International Health Regulations, but will complement it.

The discussion on an eventual treaty will only begin, but there are already ideas of what could be its central elements, among them the creation of mechanisms of compliance and surveillance in the face of the emergence of unknown pathologies, with greater powers for the WHO.

Clearer rules could also be incorporated to share samples of pathogens, as well as treatments, diagnoses or vaccines, and thus avoid a repeat of the scandal that currently represents the unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines among rich and poor countries.

A health worker cares for a COVID-19 coronavirus patient at the Dr. Abelardo Santos Regional Hospital in Belem, Pará state, Brazil. (Photo by TARSO SARRAF / AFP).

It would be only the second time since 1948, when the Constitution of the WHO entered into force, that the assembly uses the power it has to draw up international treaties.

The only precedent dates back to 2003, when it approved after several years of negotiation the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, which entered into force two years later and to which 182 countries representing 90% of the world’s population are now parties.

On the other hand, there is no question on the assembly’s agenda regarding the scientific group that has investigated the origin of the coronavirus, but whose conclusions left open several possibilities and many considered unsatisfactory.

A spokeswoman for the WHO He said that this does not mean that the issue will not be discussed, since countries can raise a debate about it in the segment dedicated to emergency issues.

Some regret that the situation that generates the pathology of “COVID-long”, referring to persistent symptoms beyond four weeks after a person has been declared free of the virus.

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