Posted by: davidjolson | 05/17/2010

World Health Assembly opens; big vote Tuesday on health personnel

This guest blog was written by Dr. Amy Hagopian, assistant professor of global health at the University of Washington; senior health workforce policy advisor at Health Alliance International; and member of the international section of the American Public Health Association. Dr. Hagopian is a member of the Global Health Council delegation to the World Health Assembly in Geneva May 17-21.

The 63rd annual World Health Assembly opens this afternoon with an address by Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization. There are several potentially important issues on the agenda, but the one I am following most closely is the scheduled vote Tuesday afternoon on item 11.5,  “International recruitment of health personnel: draft global code of practice.”

The Health Workforce Advocacy Initiative, on which my organization (Health Alliance International) serves on the steering committee, is advocating for the passage of the code (see HWAI’s website: Thanks to the good work of the HWAI secretariat Eric Williams of the Physicians for Human Rights, we have organized several efforts to get the code passed.

First, a little back story. The WHO website reports: “Member States of WHO adopted resolution WHA 57.19 at the World Health Assembly in May 2004 mandating that the WHO Director-General develop a code of practice on the international recruitment of health personnel in consultation with WHO Member States and all relevant partners. This historic resolution authorizing the elaboration of the proposed code marks the first time that WHO has used its constitutional authority to develop a non-binding code to be adopted by the World Health Assembly since the 1980 International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.”

So this is a big deal. There was an initial draft of the code in September 2008 that was pretty weak. Advocates felt it was too weak to support, and made several recommendations to strengthen it. Important organizations such as Realizing Rights were an important part of advocating for a better version. In January, the WHO Executive Board agreed to forward the code to the World Health Assembly. And now we’ve arrived!  The version of the code dated 15 April 2010 (posted at is scheduled for a vote TOMORROW (Tuesday)!

We have organized a side event to discuss how to monitor and implement the code, assuming it passes. That will be held 5:30 pm Tuesday in Room IX of the UN headquarters building.

I’m here on the delegation with the Global Health Council, of which our University of Washington Department of Global Health is a member. The GHC submitted my 400-word “intervention” on my behalf Sunday, and so I will be asked to speak to the Assembly Tuesday at its plenary session for THREE MINUTES in support of the code.  

Here’s what I’ll say: 1) The code represents a terrific opportunity for wealthy nations to slow the “reverse foreign aid” that flows from poor countries to staff rich country health systems.  2)  The code should pass as is, despite calls for watering it down from such countries as the U.S and Canada (for example, the U.S. wants to remove the word “ethical,” and wants to take out references to the universal right to the “highest attainable standard of health”).  3) There are claims by rich countries with decentralized or privatized health systems, such as the U.S., that they can’t implement the code because they don’t control the hiring decisions of health workforce employers or the decisions of training schools about how many students to admit; these arguments are specious.

So this will be fun and interesting and potentially important. I’ll let you know tomorrow what happens!


  1. Amy,
    Thanks a lot for bringing this to our attention. It’s a great way to engage and follow the exciting exploits of you and the GHC at the 63rd WHA. I personally wish you the best and look forward to either reading more on this blog or hearing the details when you get back to Seattle.

    See you soon!

  2. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment.

    iso 9000

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