More than 3,000 delegates attended the World Health Assembly, where high-level representatives from 194 countries discuss and make decisions on key global health issues. The 2019 World Health Assembly was held 20-28 May in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Policies matter as much as money,” says Margaret Chan, former WHO Director-General,  addressing the World Health Assembly. Chan noted that countries with the same level of resources achieve strikingly different health outcomes. She said that policies that “make equity an explicit objective, make a huge difference.”

Key Global Health Issues and Trends  

  • Some Member States have expressed “concern that trade agreements currently under negotiation could significantly reduce access to affordable generic medicines.”
  • Chan said, “If these agreements open trade yet close access to affordable medicines, we have to ask: Is this really progress at all?”
  • Chan also expressed concern about “the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity in every region of the world, with the increase fastest in low- and middle-income countries.” She said “In the African region alone, the number of overweight children increased from 4 million in 1990 to 10 million in 2012” and added that this was a “worrying” trend.”

New technologies such as telemedicine and fintech were also highlights from the World Health Assembly discussions.  

Global Microfinance Bank Offers Financial Services to Expand Healthcare 

In high-income economies, almost all adults own a bank account. 

But over 2.5 billion adults around the world remain unbanked, where traditional banks have been largely out of reach. Major financial institutions consider dealing with low-income customers too risky and too costly.

  • Microfinance banking and mobile money technology platforms are looking to serve this population, but lack regulatory and consumer protection frameworks.  
  • For example, FINCA is a global microfinance bank that is expanding what’s known as “agency banking” – rather than building brick and mortar bank branches, financial services are provided through a network of trained agents who operate out of their own shops and businesses.
  • Similar enterprises continue to be at the cutting edge of technology development, also leveraging a widely installed mobile user base.

Key Policy Trend: Foreign Healthcare Investment 

But just because solutions like FINCA sound appealing, there is still a long way to go in terms of providing equal standards of healthcare through solutions like microcredit lending. 

  • Chan said that “one particularly disturbing trend is the use of foreign investment agreements to handcuff governments and restrict their policy space.” 

World Health Assembly delegates will also review the progress WHO is making on reform.

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