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Ukraine war, pandemic push to colour WHO international meet

GENEVA (AFP) – The Ukraine war looms large as the World Health Organization (WHO) opened its main annual assembly yesterday, threatening to overshadow efforts on other health crises and a reform push aimed at preventing future pandemics.

The UN health agency kicked off its 75th World Health Assembly yesterday afternoon, convening its 194 member states for their first largely in-person gathering since Covid-19 surfaced in late 2019.

The agenda will remain focussed on the continuing coronavirus crisis and efforts to avert future pandemics.

But the war raging in Ukraine and rebukes of Russia for its invasion are expected to take centre stage.

Kyiv and its allies will present a resolution during the assembly harshly condemning Russia’s invasion, and especially its more than 200 attacks on healthcare, including hospitals and ambulances, in Ukraine.

It is also to voice alarm at the “health emergency in Ukraine”, and highlight the dire impacts beyond its borders, including how disrupted grain exports are deepening a global food security crisis.

“The Ukraine war is having a systemic impact on international organisations”, a European diplomat told AFP, pointing to the “considerable amounts of time (spent) looking at the consequences for health in Ukraine, in Europe and in the world”.

But while Russia has been shunned and pushed out of other international bodies over its invasion, no such sanctions are foreseen at the World Health Assembly.

“There’s not a call to kick them out,” a Western diplomat told AFP, acknowledging that the sanctions permitted under WHO rules are “very weak”.

Moscow meanwhile flatly rejected rumours that it was planning to leave the WHO, insisting in a tweet on Friday that they were “simply not true”.

The conflict is far from the only issue on this week’s packed agenda.

Among other things, the assembly is expected to re-appoint WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to a second five-year term.