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World Health Assembly: what is it and how you can engage and amplify the mental health for all message

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World Health Assembly: what is it and how you can engage and amplify the mental health for all message

By the Global Mental Health Action Network Secretariat 

The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the main decision making body of the World Health Organisation. It is an annual gathering of health ministers from around the world and a key opportunity to harness the influence of our network to champion mental health. This year, the seventy-fifth WHA takes place from 22nd to 28th May with the theme: Health for peace, peace for health. 

In-person attendance is restricted but GMHAN members can:

  • Review the WHA agenda here
  • Watch the WHA live here (Mental health is likely to be discussed on the 25th or 26th)
  • Participate virtually or in-person in WHA side events here

Use #WHA75 to join the discussions throughout the week via social media channels and follow @WHO to track the key debates. Don’t forget to add #mentalhealth tags to your messages.

What is the World Health Assembly

Politically, the World Health Assembly (WHA) is the world's highest health policy-setting body. Officially, it is the forum that governs the World Health Organization (WHO) which comprises 194 member states, usually represented in person by their health ministers. 

The main functions of the WHA are to determine the policies of WHO, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, review and approve the proposed programme (WHO) budget.

Members of the WHA meet every year in May in Geneva at the Palais De Nations. They come together to discuss an agenda and papers that are largely prepared and approved in advance by the WHO Executive Board (EB) in January each year. 

Members are usually health ministers who travel to Geneva with government delegations (mainly staffed by civil servants). These civil servants are from different parts of a government, usually led by the health ministry, for example, an international development agency. 

What will be discussed on mental health

On this year’s agenda, mental health is included under the agenda item 14.1(f), “Progress achieved in the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases and the promotion of mental health.” There are a series of topics and related documents under this agenda item. The WHO can be quite confusing to follow as the timetable for what is discussed can move around. So look out for mention of agenda item 14.1(f), keep following @unitedgmh and here is our summary of what matters for mental health advocates:

  1. The update on mental health in this document (page 57) is a very useful summary of what has been happening in mental health around the world and what WHO recommends is necessary moving forward. This can help the mental health community point to successful initiatives and actions to achieve change. It is a report produced for the WHA and approved by the WHO’s Executive Board in January. It has not been updated for WHA so this is the final version and will be discussed under agenda item 14.1(f).
  1. The WHA meeting will discuss recommendations on how to strengthen the design and implementation of policies relating to mental health and NCDs. The document covers resilient health systems and health services and infrastructure, how to treat people living with non-communicable diseases and how to prevent and control their risk factors in humanitarian emergencies. It contains useful information on the impacts of COVID-19 on NCDs (non-communicable diseases) from disease prevalence to service delivery, and there are clear recommendations on how NCDs should be included in future pandemic preparedness and response. However, there are only 2 mentions of “mental health” in the document which is disappointing as the impacts on mental health of COVID-19 and the ways in which mental health should be better integrated in pandemic preparedness and response would benefit from tailored approaches.  
  1. The intersectoral global action plan on epilepsy and other neurological disorders 2022–2031 is being approved at the WHA. This document is relevant to mental health stakeholders given the intersection of mental and neurological conditions and the ways in which services addressing the conditions often work closely together. It notes that many neurological conditions are preventable, including 25% of the global burden of epilepsy cases. Rooted in the Comprehensive Global Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030, this new epilepsy action plan will help government agencies and others working to improve support for people impacted by epilepsy and other neurological disorders. Please see the International League Against Epilepsy for more information on this condition and their response to the plan. 
  1. A new global alcohol strategy is also due to be approved. Mental health advocates will find this strategy particularly helpful in addressing mental health and alcohol addiction issues. This document will help those working to tackle alcohol addiction engage with their national governments and other stakeholders to help accelerate reforms. It refers to control of alcohol use, more specifically regarding purchasing process e.g. alcohol advertising bans, increased tax on alcohol, and restricted alcohol accessibility (hours of selling). 
  1. Also on the agenda is a draft Implementation Roadmap 2023 - 2030 for the Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-2030. This document is helpful for mental health advocates thinking about ways to promote greater action on mental health. It is an important resource to help CSOs, and especially People With Lived Experience (PWLE), identify ways to better influence policy and practice on NCDs and mental health and reduce stigma through work with WHO in the coming few years. It explains a series of activities that will be undertaken to increase knowledge dissemination engage PWLE and other stakeholders effectively develop multi-stakeholder responses to NCDs and to raise awareness of, and build capacity of PWLE and other stakeholders to enable their meaningful participation in national NCD responses. 
  1. There is a preparation document for the UN High-Level Meeting (HLM) on NCDs that will be held in 2025. The HLM meeting - and the process leading up to it - is potentially a good opportunity for mental health advocates (whether inside or outside government) who want to promote greater action on mental health. The document sets out the process from now until the HLM: what governments will need to do, when CSOs and other stakeholders can get involved etc.  

How to engage with the WHA

Firstly, it is fundamental to check what items on the agenda are relevant for your cause. Identify which agenda item(s) are of interest and prepare what you think should happen on that issue. Once you know what you are asking for, you can strategize and push for the changes you want to see by:

  1. Asking your government to make a strong statement of support in favour of action on mental health, to outline their commitments and next steps to achieving this, and commit to transparent reporting on their progress.
  2. Developing your own statements on what you believe your government needs to do next. Share your statement with your government, post it online and use the hashtags #WHA75 #mentalhealth 
  3. Tracking the conversation at WHA and highlighting key messages in your social media in order to leverage or bring attention to the work of your organisation. 

You can follow the latest developments via @unitedgmh on what is happening and any key discussions or announcements on mental health. Look out for a summary of what happened at WHA on the UnitedGMH news page:

Amplify your work by sharing it with the network!

  1. Submit your updates to the GMHAN May newsletter via gmhan@unitedgmh.org 
  2. Post and network in the GMHAN Members group
  3. Use #WHA75 and #mentalhealth to join the discussions throughout the WHA via social media channels and follow @WHO to track the key debates. Don’t forget to tag @Global Mental Health Action Network and @unitedgmh on social media to help amplify your reactions
  4. Join the GMHAN members’ annual meeting on 22nd June and participate in discussions on a wide range of topics including the follow up to WHA. Registration link and more information to come to all members via email.