The 65th World Health Assembly (WHA) took place in Geneva and reflected on a decade of progress in global health, particularly in maternal and child health, uncertainty in the current economic climate, new challenges like non-communicable diseases and a sense of urgency to improve health systems.

Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez at the World Health Assembly. Photo Credit: USAID

Dr. Margaret Chan was elected for a second five-year term as Director-General of WHO. She is a dynamic leader and a champion for women and child health. In her plenary address, she described universal health coverage, the theme of this year’s WHA, as the single most powerful concept in public health.

In the past, I made the case for health reform to control rapidly growing out-of-pocket expenditures. This message is coming from partner countries as well: sixty countries have requested technical assistance in health finance to shape more efficient and equitable health systems.

An optimistic WHA called for the introduction of new vaccines as well as ensuring support for basic immunization as part of the Global Vaccine Plan. With the global polio campaign facing a “now or never” moment, WHO is launching an Emergency Action Plan. WHA also endorsed a Comprehensive Implementation Plan on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition.

As we gear up for a new era in global health, we need to accelerate MDG progress and shape the vision for a post-MDG world. Several sessions this week addressed the continuum between reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health – including one hosted by U.S. Ambassador Betty King.  My calling card was the Child Survival Call to Action, which is taking place in Washington on June 14-15.

USAID’s priorities to end preventable child deaths, catalyze an AIDS-free generation and build the health system foundations for universal health coverage resonated strongly here. As did gender, country ownership, partnership, innovation and evaluation – all inspiring principles of the President’s Global Health Initiative.