FDI promotes oral health priorities at World Health Organization
The 142nd session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board was convened in Geneva, Switzerland, from 22-27 January. This year’s meeting opened with a powerful speech from the new WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, remarking that 2018 will be a “year that will determine what WHO looks like in the future”.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, shared his remarks during the opening ceremony.
The meeting canvassed a range of strategic priorities and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) featured prominently on the agenda. FDI was present to address the WHO Executive Board on three key agenda items:
- the prevention and control of NCDs;
- maternal, infant and young child nutrition; and
- using digital applications (mHealth) to enhance public health outcomes.
Prevention and control of NCDs
FDI welcomed WHO’s Secretariat report which stressed the urgent need to accelerate progress on achieving NCD commitments in the lead up to the third United Nations High-level meeting on NCDs in September 2018.
FDI outlined three key policy considerations that must be addressed to achieve meaningful progress in NCD prevention and control.
Firstly, FDI encouraged Member States to work closely with their respective National Dental Associations (NDAs) and deliver strategic interventions that will reduce overall sugar consumption. Dental caries is the most common NCD in the world and causes both physical and psychological harm if left untreated.
Secondly, FDI acknowledged that there are currently no baselines or indicators for oral health. FDI is currently developing a measurement tool to address this anomaly. Results will be shared with WHO when they become available to better integrate oral health into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its related Sustainable Development Goals.
Thirdly, FDI emphasized that oral diseases and other NCDs share modifiable risk factors, including tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets, and common socio-economic determinants.
Maternal, infant and young child nutrition
FDI congratulated WHO on the substantial progress made in promoting maternal, infant and child health. Children have unique oral health challenges because of their dependence on parents and caregivers and – despite being preventable – dental caries is the most common chronic childhood disease globally. FDI thus urged more governments to adopt sugar taxes and consult with their NDAs in formulating sustainable policy responses.
FDI also commended WHO on developing a manual for Member States to end the inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children. However, it was disappointing the manual omitted how “early childhood caries is caused by frequent and prolonged exposure of the teeth to sugar and is often the result of a child going to bed with a bottle of a sweetened drink or drinking at will from a bottle during the day." FDI recommended that Member States implement both the manual and WHO’s guideline on sugar intake for adults and children as well as consult FDI’s practical guide on sugars.
FDI delivered a statement with the World Health Professions Alliance acknowledging how digital technology platforms have the potential to disrupt and improve global access to healthcare. There is a global shortage of trained healthcare professionals, which may result in a deficit of 18 million workers by 2030. Toward meeting this challenge, FDI voiced support of mHealth as one solution that can make a meaningful difference in bridging the human resources gap in the healthcare sector.
FDI agreed with the Secretariat’s report that “the spread of digital technologies and global interconnectedness has a significant potential to accelerate Member States’ progress towards achieving universal health coverage, including ensuring access to quality health services.” However, the ultimate success of mHealth will depend on the quality of care delivered by healthcare professionals. FDI thus stressed how it is imperative for countries implementing mHealth to support the education and training needs of healthcare professionals and confirmed our commitment to supporting Member States as they integrate mHealth into their healthcare systems.
What happens now?
These agenda items will be discussed at the upcoming 71st World Health Assembly (WHA71), which takes place on 21-26 May in Geneva. The WHO Executive Board agreed on the WHA71 provisional agenda and set the date for the 143rd WHO Executive Board, which will directly follow WHA71 on 28-29 May in Geneva.
The WHO Executive Board
The WHO Executive Board convenes a statutory meeting annually in January and is composed of 34 individuals, who are technically qualified in the field of health and designated by each Member State. The WHO Executive Board gives effect to the decision and policies adopted at the World Health Assembly and agrees upon the agenda for the World Health Assembly and the resolutions. Non-State actors in official relations with WHO, like FDI, who contribute to improving public health are also invited to speak at the WHO Executive Board.