How does the annual World Health Assembly support infection prevention? And what is it?


Claire Kilpatrick is one of the most inspiring nurses I know. She works tirelessly for WHO and is a global champion for safe health care. She was recently tweeting (@Claireekt) from the World Health Assembly in Geneva, so I asked Claire to tell us what it was about and why she was there. Thanks for your Blog Claire – Phil


This time one month ago the World Health Assembly (WHA) was held.

Thousands upon thousands of people poured into Geneva, the same as they do every May.

The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO. It is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States* and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board. The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of the Organization, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget. The Health Assembly is held annually in Geneva, Switzerland (UN Headquarters).

*Read more on Member States

This is not a conference, you can’t apply and pay to attend. This is not about Infection Prevention and Control (IPC), or any other specialty professionals showing off their studies or their insights. This is about people, every day people and how determining the policies alongside country led action will help meet the constitution that WHO has highlighted since its establishment in 1948

And it’s about resolutions, which drive policies. There are two that have and are critically driving progress in the field of IPC at global and country level. The resolution on Quality of Care: Patient Safety from 2002 (at the 55th WHA) and the Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance (at the 68th WHA). If it hadn’t been for the patient safety resolution I probably wouldn’t have had the amazing opportunity to work at WHO.

Understanding what WHA means for IPC in all Member States, including the impact on someone working in the WHO IPC global unit when each May comes around, will hopefully give every IPC professional the opportunity to understand their responsibility and role in cascading messages as well as being a strong, united global force for good in patient safety.

Having been at WHO since 2008, this was my 8th opportunity to experience WHA. In previous years it has meant taking the opportunity to meet up with WHO representatives (WRs) from countries, attending plenary sessions but importantly technical briefings and side events where you get to talk to Member State representatives who have an interest in the same topics (all for the good of their populations) as well as with NGOs in formal relations with WHO For example, in 2015 an excellent Water Aid supported water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH event was a great opportunity to share WASH and IPC messages with a range of countries and other representatives.

In 2016 a rare chance then presented itself to truly highlight the global importance of IPC. Following internal WHO approvals and vital support from a number of Member States, IPC had its own side event. It was first and foremost supported by Australia but also a number of other countries.

It’s always challenging, will anyone be interested in your topic when there are so many other things to attend for the sake of progressing global health? Preparing information (like the flyer presented here) and engaging people to attend is a big part of the work!


On 25 May a packed room listened to a range of presentations describing the progress and challenges of IPC, and hand hygiene was a key feature in them all, including how the hand hygiene work in Australia has led to healthcare associated infection reductions. The session also saw Professors Didier Pittet and Benedetta Allegranzi give an overview of global progress and the Director General of WHO Dr Margaret Chan also attended.

WHA2This session wasn’t necessarily about presenting new information but about the discussion it could stimulate to ensure IPC stays on the global agenda and is seen as a priority by every Member State for sake of patient safety and population health. Conversations did continue well after the event including at an evening reception.

We don’t truly know what these next years will bring for IPC and AMR in each and every country but #WHA69 (as it was known on social media) was another step in the right direction – the direction of ensuring that leaders, in fact everyone truly accepts that IPC is fundamental to quality care and should be used as a key quality indicator within healthcare or else avoidable harm will continue.


Let’s make sure we all make the best of this opportunity, remind our colleagues and our governments of the commitment they have made and should continue to make and continue to talk about IPC like it’s as important as any other health topic

Claire Kilpatrick @claireekt is Director S3 Global @safesafersafest and Consultant to WHO Service Delivery and Safety Department, IPC Global Unit.

2 thoughts on “How does the annual World Health Assembly support infection prevention? And what is it?

  1. Sue Greig

    Wow, what a fantastic opportunity for IPC. Thanks Claire for the update and explanation. Hopefully we can keep infection prevention and quality and safety on the agenda at all levels of governance to improve outcomes for both the health system and most importantly the patients.


  2. Pingback: Global Health and Infection Prevention and Control - Infection Prevention

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