World Health Assembly: “infection and deaths of health workers unacceptable”

As the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA73) commences today, PSI has described the increasing number of infections and deaths of health workers as unacceptable. This is in our statement as a non-state actor in official relations with the World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of the WHO. It brings together governments from 194 countries as member states (MS) to determine policies on international health. Non-state actors, including PSI as the representative body of health workers, participate through interventions on a broad range of technical items on the agenda, for consideration of the member states.

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The proceedings of the Health Assembly usually last for a week but have been curtailed by the global health emergency. WHA73 will be a virtual meeting held over two days. The presentation of the Director General of the WHO, dwelling on COVID19, will be the main issue to be discussed. Non-state actors are invited to present a statement on this topical issue in 300 words.

PSI uses this opportunity to highlight issues of concern to workers and the public for a response to the pandemic which puts people’s health first, and has submitted the following statement:

“Distinguished chair and delegates,

From extensive discussions with our affiliates, PSI submits:

  • We find the increasing numbers of infection and deaths among healthcare workers, because of inadequate PPE, unacceptable. Mounting evidence shows possibilities of airborne transmission and thus need for application of the precautionary principle. We urge WHO to update its IPC guidelines and for Member States to provide HCWs with suitable respirators and not merely surgical masks.

  • Economic considerations should not define required PPE and workplace safety. MS have to address PPE shortages to save lives. This requires enhanced global collaboration, including for building stockpiles and supply.

  • WHO's "Considerations for public health and social measures in the workplace" has serious flaws. Prepared without involvement of workers, its recommendations on physical distancing, strategy for testing, and long-term psycho-social risks are inadequate to safeguard workers’ lives and well-being. We call for its review to adequately address these and for consideration of COVID19 as an occupational disease.

  • The pandemic shows that understaffing, underfunding and for-profit approaches weaken health systems, preparedness and emergency response. We call on MS to urgently implement the Working for Health plan adopted by WHA70 based on the COMHEEG recommendations as response to address this systemic problem. Funding of health systems should not be accounted to determine public debt.

  • We appreciate WHO’s efforts to avoid speculation in research, production and universal distribution of vaccines. This upholds the UN resolutions A/RES/74/270 & A/RES/74/274 for Global Solidarity to fight COVID-19. Global coordination also requires WHO cooperation with other stakeholders including ILO and social partners. We call on MS to consider all research, data, technology, treatments and vaccines relating to COVID-19 as non-proprietary shared global resources, supported with full compulsory licensing.”

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