44th Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 74th Session

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11-Dec-2019 01:25:18
General Assembly adopts inclusive global health resolution, as several delegates reject language on protecting reproductive rights and promoting access to medicine, at 44th plenary.

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While the General Assembly today adopted, without a vote, a draft resolution on global health and foreign policy that aims at strengthening health‑care systems, some delegations rejected language referring to reproductive rights, contending that abortion should not be recognized as a right, and called for a vote on two paragraphs.

In adopting the draft resolution “Global health and foreign policy: an inclusive approach to strengthening health systems” (document A/74/L.26), as a whole, without a vote, the Assembly called on Member States to accelerate efforts towards the achievement of universal health coverage by 2030 and re‑emphasized the resolve to progressively cover 1 billion additional people by 2023 with quality essential health services and essential medicines, vaccines, and health technologies, with a view to covering all people by 2030.

By other terms of the draft, the Assembly re‑emphasized the resolve to stop the rise and reverse the trend of catastrophic out‑of‑pocket health expenditure by providing measures to ensure financial risk protection and eliminate impoverishment due to health‑related expenses by 2030. It also called on Member States to strengthen health systems, in order to provide universal access to health‑care services that will help to empower those who are vulnerable in addressing their health needs, and to develop evidence‑based training that is sensitive to different cultures and the specific needs of women, children and persons with disabilities.

Prior to adopting “L.26”, the Assembly decided, by separate recorded votes, to include two paragraphs. By a recorded vote of 121 in favour to 8 against (Belarus, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nauru, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United States), with 19 abstentions, the Assembly decided to include preambular paragraph 13, by which it reaffirmed its commitment to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences.

The Assembly also decided to retain operative paragraph 29, by a recorded vote of 148 in favour to 1 against (United States), with 1 abstention (Burundi). By the terms of this paragraph, the Assembly reaffirmed the right to use the provisions contained in the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade‑Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which provides flexibilities for the protection of public health and promotes access to medicines for all. The Assembly also reaffirmed the right to use the provisions contained in the Doha Declaration on the Agreement and Public Health, which recognizes that intellectual property protection is important for the development of new medicines and also recognizes the concerns about its effects on prices.

Speaking after the action, Libya’s delegate, who also spoke on behalf of Iraq, stressed the need to avoid raising contentious issues, such as those relating to sexual education and reproductive health. States have unique social and religious realities, and international organizations should never impose their beliefs on sovereign States, he said.

The United States representative said her delegation does not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, and it is unacceptable to interject controversial terms like sexual and reproductive health into the draft. On operative paragraph 29, she said its language has no operative precedent, noting that it was moved from the preambular to operative section after negotiations concluded.

Guatemala’s representative said his country’s Constitution establishes that the enjoyment of health is a human right and guarantees and protects human life from conception. As such, reproductive and sexual rights should not include abortion rights.

An observer for the Holy See said his delegation rejects the interpretation of reproductive health that considers abortion or access to abortion, maternal surrogacy or sterilization as dimensions of the term.

Israel’s representative said women should have equal access to health‑care systems, including sexual and reproductive health services.

The Russian Federation’s representative said his delegation joined consensus on the draft, but cautioned that year after year, attempts are made to shift the focus from key health aspects to borderline issues, risking a duplication of work with specialized United Nations platforms, decreasing attention to pressing international problems within the medical agenda and politicizing policy discussions.

In the general discussion prior to adopting the draft, several Member States highlighted the need to ensure health‑care access to all people, with India’s delegate saying that affordability is key to equitable access to health care. While both public and private sectors have a role to play in building stronger health systems, it is important to be cautious about the commercialization of health‑care services, he said.

Several delegates cited national achievements, with Japan’s representative saying that managing universal health coverage has been a key to his country’s socioeconomic development and a healthy ageing society. Indonesia’s delegate said one initiative has expanded health insurance coverage to reach more than 223 million people in his country, representing 83.5 per cent of the population.

The Assembly also considered a note of the Secretary‑General on “Improving international coordination and cooperation to address health needs and the challenges for the achievement of a healthier world through better nutrition” (document A/74/470).

Also speaking were representatives of France, Cuba, Finland (on behalf of the European Union), Hungary, Iran, Switzerland, as well as the European Union delegation.

The Assembly will meet again on Thursday, 12 December at 10 a.m. to take action on draft resolutions on the culture of peace and the death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him.

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