World's health challenges take centre stage in Geneva

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At the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Margaret Chan makes her final appearance as the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Photo: WHO

How to deal with the biggest risks to human health is an issue that's taken centre stage at the UN during the 70th World Health Assembly, which began in Geneva on Monday.

Representatives from nearly 200 countries are also at the event in the Swiss city to vote in the new head of the World Health Organization (WHO) from a final shortlist of three candidates.

He – or she – will take over from Dr Margaret Chan, who's stepping down after two five-year terms.

Daniel Johnson has more.

At this year's World Health Assembly, 194 Member States will sit down in Geneva to discuss what's been learned from recent epidemics such as Zika and Ebola.

Experts in their field will also provide updates on how Angola responded to last year's Yellow Fever outbreak, which exhausted the global vaccine stockpile several times.

The current cholera epidemic in war-torn Yemen is also on the agenda; only days ago, it was described by World Health Organization (WHO) representatives there as "unprecedented".

Polio is still causing misery and paralysis in three countries where it is endemic: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, so delegates will continue to push for the complete eradication of the wild poliovirus, for which there is no cure, only prevention.

In addition to tackling these health threats and many more, the World Health Assembly has one more important task: namely choosing a successor to outgoing WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan.

The Chinese incumbent is stepping down after 10 years.

"I thank Member States for the trust shown when you appointed me as your director-general more than 10 years ago. I promised to work tirelessly and have done so but never got tired of the job, in the best and worst of times. When I took office I also promised that I would hold myself accountable for the organization's performance. This month, I have issued a report tracking how public health evolved during the 10 years of my administration. The report sets out the facts and assesses the trends; but makes no effort to promote my administration. The report goes some way towards dispelling criticism that WHO has lost its relevance. The facts tell a different story."

The three candidates hoping to step into her shoes after the vote on Tuesday afternoon are Tedros Ghebreyesus from Ethiopia, David Nabarro from the UK and Sania Nishtar from Pakistan.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 2’11″

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