WHO Celebrates 75th Anniversary at World Health Assembly

Last updated June 5, 2023

Written by: Molly Moss, Senior Global Health Policy Associate, United Nations Foundation


The 76th World Health Assembly (WHA) concluded on May 30th after nine days of stocktaking, negotiating, and planning by World Health Organization (WHO) Member States, global health experts, and advocates. Unlike recent years, the Assembly was not heavily charged with debates and big decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but from the tone of Member State interventions throughout the week, there is no doubt that health systems across the world are still grappling with the disruptions it caused. As the world emerges from the acute phase of the COVID-19 emergency, countries used this Assembly – which marks WHO’s 75th anniversary – to consider how to regain lost ground and contribute to a WHO that is fit to meet future needs.

Takeaways from the World Health Assembly

Here are some of the more significant takeaways from the annual gathering.

Improved Financing of WHO

WHO Member States passed the 2024-2025 biennial budget, which included a landmark 20% increase in assessed contributions (membership dues) to WHO. This long-awaited budget decision affirms Member States’ commitment to fix WHO’s broken financing, as outlined in last year’s agreement on sustainable financing. Building on this political momentum and hoping to provide the Organization with more and better-quality funds, the Assembly also agreed to continue planning for an “Investment Round,” a novel financing effort to enhance the predictability and flexibility of WHO’s voluntary funding. Should it come to fruition, this would be a first-of-its-kind funding approach in the UN system.

Focus on Impact of Conflict on Health

Remarks from many speakers throughout the week reflected a growing concern about the pressures of geopolitics and hegemony on public health and wellbeing. Like last year, the war in Ukraine elicited two opposing resolutions (put forward by Ukraine and Russia, respectively), which resulted in a time-consuming and not commonly used voting process. Separately, the roadmap for the Global Health and Peace Initiative, a fairly new initiative that has enjoyed strong support from the WHO membership throughout its development, ended up being weakened by last-minute negotiations. The decision requires the WHO Secretariat to report on progress on the roadmap at next year’s Assembly. Given that late-breaking negotiations were necessary during the Assembly, it’s reasonable to expect continued diplomatic debate to emanate from this new mandate.

Person-centered Strategies at the Forefront

Member States and experts alike advocated for person-centered strategies driven by high-performing primary healthcare and enabled by Universal Health Coverage. Often, Member States emphasized the particular needs of vulnerable populations, especially those in conflict- and climate-affected settings. Delegations called for holistic approaches to meeting the varied needs of these populations, including by addressing COVID-related interruptions to key health services like child immunization. They noted with special concern the stalled progress on maternal, newborn, and child survival and the growing burden of mental health disorders. Member States praised WHO for providing important technical advice to guide national responses and requested more support for issues like improving nutrition and vaccination rates, responding to climate threats, and addressing multisectoral factors that affect sexual and reproductive health.


There is certainly much attention on WHO’s role in future pandemics, which is playing out in the context of ongoing intergovernmental negotiations for the new pandemic accord and amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005). However, those processes are not expected to conclude until May 2024, at the earliest. Member States and other stakeholders still offered ideas and priorities to inform those processes during the Assembly, with many citing the imperative to solve for equitable access to medical countermeasures and financing for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response efforts.

Though the goal of a more equitable pandemic response is universally held, Member States differ in their views of how to achieve this. Negotiations on these consequential matters are taking place in the formal workstreams for the pandemic accord and IHR amendments. The negotiations will intensify in the latter half of 2023, and by all accounts they have been strained so far. While there were no decisions on this work at the Assembly, the status of the processes – and speculation about whether they will conclude on time – was a notable undercurrent of discussion.

As Member States recognized WHO’s 75th anniversary at the Assembly this year, they also reflected their expectations for the next 75 years. There is clearly an urgent desire for WHO to operate nimbly in health emergencies. Shockingly however, only 53% of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme budget is funded. As Member States seek to improve the performance of WHO, they will have to provide commensurate resources. That’s why the budget and sustainable financing decisions this year are so crucial. They represent mutual responsibility of Member States and the WHO Secretariat to continuously improve the institution to service the health needs of the future. The financing outcomes are operationally significant for WHO, and they also signify the trust of Member States and their desire to see WHO fulfill its highest potential as the world’s authority on health.

About the Author

Molly Moss is a Senior Global Health Policy Associate at the UN Foundation. In this role, she covers policy issues related to global health governance, antimicrobial resistance, and Universal Health Coverage. Molly manages the Foundation’s official relations status with the World Health Organization and also supports engagement on health issues among UN Member States in New York. Prior to the Foundation, Molly worked for the Center for Global Health at the University of Colorado, focusing on immunization, pediatric infectious disease research, and research ethics. During her time at the University of Colorado, Molly earned her Master of Public Health in community and behavioral health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in medical anthropology from Hampshire College.

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