71st World Health Assembly 2018

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Report by Lydia Di Stephano and Esther Schroeder

In May 2018 the Medical Women’s International Association took part in the World Health Organisation’s annual World Health Assembly held in Geneva, Switzerland. We, Lydia Di Stephano and Esther Schroeder, attended as representatives from Australia. We joined the Medical Women’s International Association General Secretary Dr Shelly Ross and President-Elect Dr Clarissa Fabre, as well as delegates from India and Taiwan.

The theme for this year’s assembly was Universal Access to Healthcare, as set by WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Our delegation attended the opening event of the Assembly where Dr Tedros gave his address, discussing the achievements of the WHO in the last year, and the challenges it is facing particularly in communicable disease outbreaks such as the new Ebola outbreak which was emerging at the time of the assembly. Dr Tedros also discussed the structural changes within the WHO, including that now 64% of too management of the WHO are women.

As a delegation, we had a number of meetings with World Health Organisation staff members involved in work that aligns with the priorities and work of the MWIA. These meeting were a great way for our delegation to find out more about the work being done by the WHO, and for discussions to happen on how MWIA can support and work with some of these initiatives. Meetings included topics on FGM, violence against women, HPV screening programs and gender equity and rights.

There were also a number of side events to the World Health Assembly with topics relevant to our work, which Lydia and I also enjoyed attending. These included a workshop Women on the Rise: Women’s Health and Hygiene in the SDGs. This workshop in particular looked at the importance of public discussion and support of women in their adolescence when it comes to puberty and menstruation, and the critical conversations and impressions that happen at this time. Other side events we attended included 100 Years after the Pandemic: Preparedness to Protect Health for All, and Health of Palestinians & Palestine Refugees.

Attending the World Health Assembly with the MWIA was a wonderful opportunity for us to see the inner workings of the WHO, and meet with the diverse organisations and delegates present from across the world. As MWIA delegates, it was a chance to speak to WHO staff about the work that MWIA does and our areas of focus, and be a presence focussing on women’s health using the breadth of experience and knowledge of the individuals that make up the MWIA and our Australian Federation of Medical Women . We would like to also thank the AFMW for this opportunity to represent them in attending the World Health Assembly.

Esther Schroeder is a junior doctor and currently a Worcester College Provost’s Scholar at the University of Oxford Lydia Di Stefano is a Monash University medical student and currently a Masters of Sexual and Reproductive Health Student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

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