The first Resolution on the prevention of hearing loss and deafness in over 20 years is on its way!
The 139th meeting of the World Health Organisation’s Executive Board (WHO EB) took place in Geneva, Switzerland, on 30th and 31st May 2016. The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the supreme decision-making body of WHO. It is held annually and is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States. Its main functions are to determine the policies of the organization, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget.
For a resolution proposal to be considered by the WHA, first the WHO EB has to approve the inclusion of the relevant item in the WHA agenda with sufficient support from the Member States represented in the EB and an adequate time provision. The EB is composed of 34 persons who are technically qualified in the field of health, each designated by a Member State that has been elected to serve by the World Health Assembly. Member States are elected for three-year terms. WHO EB meets up twice a year, the first time in January and then in May, straight after the conclusion of the annual WHA.
There have only been two resolutions issued by the WHA on prevention of hearing loss and deafness; the first one in 1985: WHA 38.19, and the most recent one in 1995: WHA 48.9. This puts into context the magnitude and relevance of the progress made in the last two years towards a much needed new resolution.
CBM's contribution so far
- Prior to this WHO EB meeting, during the 68th session of the WHA, from 18th to 26th May 2015, CBM participated in the Side Event: “Action for better hearing: promoting ear and hearing care at primary level”, held on 18th May 2015. This event was led by ISA (International Association of Audiology) and IFOS (International Federation of Otorhinolaryngological Societies) which, like CBM, are members of the INGO Consortium which support the work of WHO in Prevention of Deafness and Hearing Loss. WHO presided the panel, integrated also by representatives of WHO Member States South Africa and the Russian Federation, IFHOH (International Federation of Hard Of Hearing people) and GFCHL (Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss).
- Co-organization of Side Event: “Building on the health MDGs – ensuring the SDGs leave no one behind”, held on 22nd May 2015 and led by Sightsavers, Handicap International, International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness and the Global Health Council.
- Advocacy before Member States with representation in the WHO EB to request their support in proposing a new resolution, to follow on WHA 48.9 of 1995. We have got this far thanks to the efforts of WHO and its collaborating partners such as CBM. In the case of CBM, we have been able to contribute to this achievement thanks to our contacts in Latin America, through the “Forum of the Americas for Ear and Hearing Care”, who put us first in contact with the Ministry of Health of Panama in 2015 (which at the time was a member of the EB), so that we could share the importance of a new resolution in this area of work.
During WHA 2015, the Panama delegation provided a statement in which they specifically called for a new resolution on hearing loss. Later on, in December 2015, Panama’s MOH hosted a successful meeting of the “Forum of the Americas for EHC”, supported by CBM and coordinated by PAHO and WHO.
Attendance and support of the WHA proceedings, held during 25th and 26th May 2015. In summary, a total of 56 Member States, 1 observer and 1 NGO in official relations made statements about disabling hearing loss. 48 Member States (including Panama) and 1 NGO in official relations (ISA) specifically called for a new resolution on hearing loss.
- Reviewing the initial draft text of the new resolution on prevention of deafness and hearing loss, which would then be circulated for review and amendments by Member States currently in the EB.
- Advocacy with Member States with representation in the WHO EB. Panama was a member of WHO’s Executive Board (EB) until last year. This year they have been a key mediator, facilitating that CBM approached the delegations of Dominican Republic and Colombia to request their support before the EB meeting and then in Geneva, by introducing CBM’s EHC global advisor to them. Both Member States supported the approval of the draft resolution in the WHO EB meeting (the Dominican Republic being one of the 3 Member States who agreed to co-sponsor the resolution alongside the Russian Federation).
- Attendance and support of the EB proceedings relevant to EB 139th meeting agenda “Point 6: Technical and health matters. Item 6.3: Development of a new Health Assembly resolution and action plan for prevention of deafness and hearing loss”, which was discussed during the afternoon session on 30th May 2016.
The following 21 countries made statements: Colombia, Philippines, Turkey, DR Congo (spoke on behalf of the 47 countries of the African region), China, Canada, Bhutan, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Thailand, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Mexico, USA, New Zealand, Germany, South Africa, Zambia, Saudi Arabia, India and Algeria. In addition, Dr Tavartkiladze delivered a statement of support, on behalf of ISA. A recording of the proceedings is available online.
Three of the countries: South Africa, Dominican Republic and Turkey, agreed to co-sponsor the resolution alongside the Russian Federation. Overall, all statements were very positive and supported WHO efforts and agenda. The resolution proposed was accepted with few, small amendments.
The way forward
As it has been explained in this article, a new WHO resolution implies a long and delicate process, from the moment of the idea conception until the WHO Member States receive the final document for approval. The progress made at this EB meeting has been a crucial step in order to reach the desired outcome, but the process is not over yet. The final Resolution needs to be adopted during the 70th WHA in May 2017 and endorsed by WHO Member States, so that all countries where CBM works can also benefit from it.