Advocating for children at #WHA70

Advocating for children at #WHA70

I recently had to pleasure of interviewing CLAN Vice President, Cath Cole. With help from the Fred Hollow’s Foundation, Cath had the privilege of attending this year’s 70th World Health Assembly (#WHA70) in Geneva, Switzerland alongside Dr. Kate Armstrong.

Representatives from member states around the world joined together at the World Health Assembly (WHA) to address pressing issues regarding world health. Cath emphasises the importance of attending events such as the WHA stating that it gives CLAN the opportunity to understand what is happening globally, participate in high-level advocacy and increase our footprint through networking with other Assembly participants.

While in Geneva, Cath and Kate attended an event hosted by NCD Child, a global coalition started by CLAN following the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs in 2011. The NCD Child side event was a great opportunity to focus attention on the importance of universal access to essential medicines and equipment for children and adolescents who are living with - and at risk of - NCDs. Several representatives of WHO attended the event, as did the Chief of Child Health for UNICEF, Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, Sir George Alleyne and Hon Min Siriwardana. 

The panel of speakers participating in the NCD Child side event was outstanding, and included Jon Klein, Zulfiqar Bhutta, Jeff Sturchio, Hon Min Siriwardana, Flavia Batureine and Weronika Kowalski, wth Sir George Alleyne moderating. Kate’s closing address followed a lively and interactive discussion that addressed the range of complexities, challenges, barriers and solutions relevant to improving universal access to essential medicines and equipment for children and adolescents. 

Discussions included recognition of the challenges associated with getting medication on the Essential Medicines List for children and the importance of allowing easy access to the medications once drugs are included on the list. It was discussed that improper treatment at a young age can result in the inability to live a healthy and productive life years later.

A week after the event, the World Health Organization released the 20th Essential Medicines List adding 30 medicines for adults and 25 for children. The list’s update was made in March 2017 and released on 6 June 2017. Cath views this a step in the right direction, but states “some of the challenges are that drugs aren’t available in the countries where [CLAN] works. Getting medications on the Essential Medicines List is only one part of the challenge, the other part of the challenge is for the country that needs them to have them registered so that they are allowed to be imported or manufactured in the country.” Expanding the list and having countries register the medication can help eliminate the need to buy medications through the black market. Cath states that it is important to advocate for medicines essential to children with chronic health conditions as proper treatment at an early age is vital to a child’s health and development.

The NCD Child event was a success as attendees were able to learn about the issues regarding limited access to medicine for children and adolescents living with NCDs in underdeveloped countries. Cath noted that it was a moving event as young people living with NCDs attended the event and were able to share their personal stories. Attendees were also able to hear from young medical professionals passionate about improving access to medicines for people living with NCDs. A particular highlight was the participation of Flavia and Weronika - two young people living with NCDs. Their talks were especially powerfully, and highlighted yet again the vital importance of youth involvement and leadership in advocacy efforts.

This year’s assembly was certainly not one to miss as Cath was able to witness the appointment of new Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia. Upon taking office in July 2017, Dr. Tedros will be the first Director-General from Africa. Cath states that Dr. Tedros’ appointment is, “Fantastic for [Ethiopia and Africa as a whole] to have someone who is in a position that allows them to speak out about a lived experience.” Cath is confident that Dr. Tedros understands what families want and need on the most basic level and that is access to medicines and equipment. Cath states she is hopeful that as new Director-General, Dr. Tedros can help individuals across the globe understand the issues associated with the lack of medical resources. Cath is hopeful that if Dr. Tedros follows the “never forget the people” ethos followed by his predecessor Dr. Margaret Chan, he will focus efforts for the poor and help them improve the quality of their lives.  

Again, CLAN would like to thank the Fred Hollow’s Foundation for their part in Cath and Kate’s journey to the World Health Assembly. Cath and Kate are incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to further advocate for children living with NCDs.

An interview with Cath Cole by Stephanie Carde (CLAN Intern, 2017)