Against the backdrop of the COVID‑19 pandemic, the General Assembly adopted two health‑related resolutions this morning — one, by recorded vote, underscoring the importance of affordable health care for all and of monitoring the unfolding impact of the novel coronavirus, and another, by consensus, declaring 2021 to 2030 as the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing.
The world body also established a trust fund to enable eligible nationals from developing countries to participate in the Judicial Fellowship Programme at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, commended Vanuatu’s graduation from least developed country status and elected members of the Organizational Committee of the Peacebuilding Commission for two‑year terms beginning 1 January 2021.
The Assembly adopted the annual resolution “Global health and foreign policy: strengthening health system resilience through affordable health care for all” (document A/75/L.41), by a recorded vote of 181 in favour to 1 against (United States), with no abstentions. By its terms, the Assembly urged Member States to strengthen national systems through ensuring affordable health care for all and called upon them to strengthen their resilience as an integral part of their preparedness for related emergencies. It also stressed the importance of monitoring the indirect impacts of the pandemic on health service delivery, acknowledged the efforts of health workers and care workers during the pandemic and called upon Member States and others to support funding for the Access to COVID‑19 Tools Accelerator (ACT‑Accelerator), as well as the equitable distribution of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
Introducing “L.41”, Indonesia’s representative said the pandemic makes this annual text even more relevant today, and that access to quality and affordable health care for everyone and everywhere is an essential priority for international development. Global solidarity and unity on this issue is more important than ever before, he said, calling on Member States to put politics aside and to tackle this humanitarian issue in the interests of all.
The United States representative, setting out his country’s position, called the resolution “deeply flawed”, as it ignored the origins of the pandemic and diluted language on global health by including issues that do not enjoy consensus. Highlighting the resolution’s disregard for the pandemic’s origin, he asked the international community to act responsibly and request that China act transparently in addressing the health crisis.
Speaking in explanation of position after the vote, several delegates said that insufficient time had been provided for consultations on the text and requested that the main sponsors adjust their working methods accordingly. Some delegates distanced their countries from its references to sexual and reproductive health.
In adopting the resolution “United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021‑2030)” (document A/75/L.47) without a vote, the Assembly called upon Member States and others to strengthen action to prevent, monitor and address the disproportionate effects of COVID‑19 on older persons and ensure that health‑care decisions affecting them respect their dignity and promote their human rights.
Introducing that text, Chile’s representative, also speaking on behalf of Japan, noted that by 2050, the number of people over age 60 around the world is expected to reach 2.1 billion. Given the context, the proposed decade, endorsed by the World Health Assembly, is urgently needed, he stated.
Through the resolution “Trust fund for the Judicial Fellowship Programme of the International Court of Justice” (document A/75/L.48), the Assembly requested the Secretary‑General to establish and administer this fund to provide fellowship awards to eligible nationals of developing countries who would be nominated by universities in those countries and selected by the Court.
Singapore’s representative, who introduced the resolution, said the trust fund would give opportunities to students from universities with limited resources to participate in the programme and learn of the Court’s practices first‑hand.
Through the resolution “Graduation of Vanuatu from the least developed country category” (document A/75/L.14/Rev.1), the Assembly commended Vanuatu’s commitment to emerge from the category of least developed countries. It invited development and trading partners to support that strategy and underlined the exceptional nature of its decision, taken in the context of the COVID‑19 pandemic and Tropical Cyclone Harold, which struck the Pacific island nation in April.
In other matters, the Assembly elected Brazil, Costa Rica, Egypt, Lebanon and South Africa as members of the Organizational Committee of the Peacebuilding Commission, each for a two‑year term of office beginning 1 January 2021. It also took note of two letters, contained in documents A/75/640 and A/75/641, respectively, stating that Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan and Rwanda will represent the troop- and police‑contributing country category on the Committee for the same two‑year period, and that Canada, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden represent the leading financial contributors to the United Nations.
Representatives of China and the United States spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Assembly will reconvene at 3 p.m. today to resume its special session on the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Action on Draft Resolutions
The Assembly first took up a report of the Economic and Social Council containing the draft resolution “Graduation of Vanuatu from the least developed country category” (document A/75/L.14/Rev.1). By its terms, the Assembly would commend Vanuatu’s commitment to graduate from the category of least developed countries on 4 December and, in that regard, welcome the Government’s smooth transition strategy. It would invite development and trading partners to support that strategy and underlined the exceptional nature of its decision, taken in the context of Tropical Cyclone Harold — which struck the Pacific island nation in April 2020 — and the COVID‑19 pandemic.
The Assembly then adopted “L.14/Rev.1” without a vote.
The representative of the United States, explaining his delegation’s position, said that Vanuatu’s graduation from least developed country status is an accomplishment to celebrate, especially given the impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic and Cyclone Harold. The United States is proud to have assisted Vanuatu along its development path through a $65 million Millennium Challenge Corporation compact. He disassociated his delegation from operative paragraph 3 due to its trade‑related language, adding that such language should have no standing at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Next, the Assembly considered a report of the International Court of Justice, containing the draft resolution “Trust fund for the Judicial Fellowship Programme of the International Court of Justice” (document A/75/L.48). By its terms, the Assembly would request the Secretary‑General to establish and administer such a trust fund to provide fellowship awards to eligible nationals of developing countries nominated by universities based in those countries and selected by the Court. An annex to the text sets out the terms of reference through which States, international financial institutions, donor agencies, non‑governmental organizations and others can make voluntary financial contributions in support of the programme.
YONG‑ERN NATHANIEL KHNG (Singapore), introducing “L.48”, said the fellowship programme provides dozens of law students from around the world the opportunity to learn of the Court’s practices first‑hand. However, only universities with sufficient resources have been able to participate. As such, a trust fund would allow students from institutions with limited resources to participate in the Court’s programme.
A representative of the Secretariat said voluntary contributions would fund all related activities, and accordingly, the adoption of “L.48” would not entail any budgetary implications with regard to the programme budget.
The Assembly then adopted “L.48” without a vote, as orally revised.
The Assembly then turned to the draft resolution “Global health and foreign policy: strengthening health system resilience through affordable health care for all” (document A/75/L.41). By its terms, the Assembly would urge Member States to strengthen their national systems through ensuring affordable health care for all and boost their resilience as an integral part of their preparedness for health emergencies. It would call upon States to, among other things, ensure the right of women and girls to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and ensure that human rights are respected and protected while combating the COVID‑19 pandemic. It would also call upon Member States and relevant actors, including political and religious leaders, to promote inclusion and unity in response to the pandemic and to take strong action against racism, xenophobia and hate speech.
Also through the text, the Assembly would further stress the critical importance of monitoring the indirect impact of the pandemic on health service delivery, acknowledge the devoted efforts of health workers, especially during the pandemic, and call upon Member States and other partners and donors to urgently support funding for the Access to COVID‑19 Tools Accelerator (ACT‑Accelerator) and its mechanisms, such as the COVID‑19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, and support equitable distribution of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
The Assembly also had before it the draft resolution “United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021‑2030)” (document A/75/L.47), through which it would decide to proclaim 2021‑2030 the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing, within existing structures and available resources. Among other things, it would call upon Member States and other stakeholders to take and strengthen action to prevent, monitor and address the disproportionate effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic on older persons, and to ensure that health‑care decisions affecting older persons respect their dignity and promote their human rights.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Foreign Policy and Global Health Initiative, introduced “L.41”, saying that the pandemic makes this annual text even more relevant today. Access to quality and affordable health care for everyone and everywhere is an essential priority for international development. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 100 million people are impoverished by catastrophic health‑care expenses. The pandemic has demonstrated that access to quality and affordable health care is a precondition for sustainable development and a foundation for socioeconomic and political stability. Global solidarity and unity on this issue is more important than ever before, he said, calling on Member States to put aside politics and to address this humanitarian issue in the interests of all.
MILENKO ESTEBAN SKOKNIC TAPIA (Chile), also speaking on behalf of Japan, introduced “L.47”, saying that by 2050, the number of people over age 60 is expected to reach 2.1 billion. Given the context, the proposed decade, endorsed by the World Health Assembly, is urgently needed, given that many people over age 60 in low- and middle‑income countries lack access to even the most basic resources for a meaningful and dignified life. The proposed decade would aim at strengthening multisectoral approaches and bringing together a variety of stakeholders, building on existing networks, with the goal of helping older people realize the opportunities that they deserve.
The representative of the United States, explaining his delegation’s position, said he would vote against “L.41”, which is “deeply flawed”, as it ignores the origins of the pandemic and dilutes language on global health by including issues that do not enjoy consensus. Highlighting a lack of inclusivity during its drafting and its disregard for the pandemic’s origin, which puts the world at risk of another pandemic, he asked the international community to act responsibly and request that China act transparently in addressing the health crisis and urged WHO to foster better understanding of the linkage between global health and intellectual property. Regarding sexual and reproductive rights, the United States supports the provision of health services for women and girls without promoting abortion. His delegation would join consensus on “L.47” but would disassociate itself from references to WHO in operative paragraph 4 because the United States withdrew from the Organization, effective in 2021.
The Assembly then adopted “L.41” by a recorded vote of 181 in favour to 1 against (United States), with no abstentions.
It next adopted “L.47” without a vote.
The representative of the United Kingdom, also speaking on behalf of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, referred to “L.41”, expressing support for the inclusion of references to financial hardship and protecting the rights of women and girls. However, he was disappointed at the removal of a paragraph on the WHO evaluation process, which is pivotal to the COVID‑19 response, and was perplexed by the absence of a reference to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In a year when health issues matter so much, he regretted to note the lack of inclusivity in drafting “L.41”, given the need for truly meaningful consultations, and said the stakes are too high not to reflect the voices of all Member States.
The representative of Guatemala noted the importance of providing health care to all, as it is the fundamental right of all human beings. Expressing a reservation to operative paragraph 13, he said reproductive rights could be erroneously interpreted and may contravene Guatemala’s Constitution, which does not recognize the right to abortion.
The representative of Hungary said her delegation joined consensus on “L.47” but regretted to note the lack of agreement on “L.41”. Hungary is proud of its long‑standing achievements in health care and its scientific contributions to advancing global public health. Recalling her delegation’s concerns about the political declaration emerging from the General Assembly’s high‑level meeting on universal health coverage in 2019, she expressed a preference for a neutral reference thereto in the preambular paragraphs of both resolutions.
The representative of Iran questioned whether “L.41” was successful in achieving its goal, as illegal unilateral coercive measures continue to impede access to affordable health care and medicine during this challenging time. Noting that Tehran is fighting on two fronts, against COVID‑19 and economic sanctions imposed by the United States, he said Iran’s exclusion from international trade and banking systems is hindering access to medical supplies through existing commercial mechanisms. As such, he disassociated his delegation from operative paragraph 13, stating that this provision does not enjoy consensus.
The representative of the Russian Federation, noting that his delegation places priority on the importance of health care on national and international levels, said Moscow has combated the spread of COVID‑19 with a series of innovative medications, including two vaccines. Expressing support for “L.41”, he underlined the importance of comprehensive coverage services, agreed with the need to combat non‑infectious diseases and welcomed the leading role of WHO. Yet, he voiced concern about the forced format and pace of the negotiating process, noting that the original draft was not well balanced. Health care should be at the centre without focus on other issues, such as human rights, which are handled in other areas of the Organization. In addition, he disassociated his delegation from operative paragraph 19, as it uses disputed terminology, including about violence against women.
The representative of Libya said he voted in favour of “L.41”, as it supports affordable health services for all. Yet, Libya’s position is unchanged on the problematic issues, such as reproductive health, and as such, his delegation disassociated from operative paragraph 13.
The representative of Japan, speaking on “L.41”, welcomed the acknowledgement of the need for international leadership and multilateral cooperation to deal with current and future pandemics. However, Japan is greatly disappointed about the removal of a paragraph regarding the WHO evaluation process, he said, adding that recognizing lessons learned and preparing for future pandemics should not be controversial. In addition, “L.41” makes no reference to the elderly as a vulnerable population, given that they are among the hardest hit by COVID‑19. Moreover, insufficient time was provided for consultations and, going forward, the core group behind this annual resolution should consider a more appropriate timeline.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said that while health preparedness is a national responsibility, it is a global common good that requires international cooperation. She underscored her delegation’s support for WHO and its role during the COVID‑19 pandemic and for independent reviews to draw up lessons learned and improve global preparedness. However, consultations on “L.41” were rushed, seemingly in favour of meeting a particular date for adoption, she said, also expressing concern at a lack of inclusivity in the drafting and consultation process. Going forward, she urged the core group and its incoming Chair to improve its working methods.
The representative of Switzerland said the fixing of prices of medicines hinges on myriad factors, and the system to protect intellectual property is a critical element of developing medical products. Reaffirming his delegation’s support of WHO as it combats the pandemic, he called on all stakeholders to contribute positively to work on issues relating to intellectual property.
The representative of Syria said her delegation voted in favour of “L.41” and called on intergovernmental organizations to work together across borders to address threats to international security, including those stemming from the health crisis. She reaffirmed the importance of national Governments in implementing policies to secure health‑care coverage for their citizens. “To achieve resilient health systems, the international community must work together,” she said, warning Member States that coercive unilateral measures imposed by the United States and its Western allies are having devastating effects on Syria.
An observer for the European Union delegation, delivering a statement on the resolutions, said “L.41” traditionally covers a broad span of issues and underlines the political relevance of the topic. While “L.41” constitutes an agreeable compromise on numerous issues, the resolution would have benefited from integrating references to the effects of climate change. Regretting to note the deletion of references to the WHO evaluation process alongside agreed language that had been adopted by consensus, she said the bloc would have supported including provisions recognizing that actions should not undermine innovation and looks forward to improved working methods in 2021. Highlighting “L.47”, she said healthy ageing creates opportunities for people to enjoy well‑being and improved quality of life. However, “L.47” would have benefited from referencing stigmatization due to age and addressing the challenges of gender‑based violence, important to all ages.
An observer for the Holy See, also delivering a statement on the adopted resolutions, said strengthening health system resilience and access for all has never been so timely. The fragility of systems in the face of the pandemic means that not everything can be solved by market forces, he said, as the right to health care is universally recognized as basic human right. Low‑income States need the international community’s support to meet funding shortfalls, and “L.41” is a significant step forward. Regretting to note the reference to sexual and reproductive rights, he rejected the interpretation that access to abortion is a dimension to universal health coverage, adding that including that “troublesome phrase not only weakens the resolution, but contradicts it.”
Right of Reply
The representative of China, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said her counterpart from the United States used the United Nations platform to provoke and cause clashes, which Beijing rejects. The United States delegate’s remarks were not based on fact, as China lost no time in publishing critical information related to COVID‑19, including the virus’ genetic sequence, and has supported WHO in its leading role during the crisis. Pointing out that the United States — the country most advanced in medical technology — has suffered the most serious COVID‑19 outbreaks, she urged Washington, D.C., to respect facts, learn lessons and devote its energy to fighting the pandemic and protecting the lives and health of its people. She also expressed hope that the United States ceases politicizing the pandemic and cooperates with the international community to play a constructive role in humanity’s fight against the coronavirus.
The representative of the United States said Washington, D.C., has not sought to politicize this issue, but rather seeks accountability, transparency and for WHO to fulfil requests to investigate the origins of COVID‑19. Despite calls from numerous Member States during the Assembly’s recent special session for greater transparency in this investigation, no progress has been made. No international experts have been dispatched to China, the terms of reference for the investigation were not developed with full transparency and WHO has not confirmed any dates for future investigative missions. An international team needs immediate, direct and unfettered access to determine how the pandemic could have been prevented, he said, questioning how scientists have developed vaccines in response to COVID‑19, yet the world has no idea from where the virus originated.
The representative of China, taking the floor for a second time, reiterated that Beijing was transparent and responsible in implementing the related WHO resolution and tracing the source of the virus. China was the first to invite WHO experts for a visit and has held virtual meetings with scientists. Emphasizing the complexity of tracing the source of COVID‑19, she said that while Beijing was the first to report the virus, it does not mean China was its source. Scientists must carry out international activities to trace the source, and China will continue to work with other countries and WHO on this issue. Referring to the United States representative’s reference to the vaccine, she said China was the first country to provide genome mapping of the virus, sharing this information in a timely manner with scientists in other countries, thereby enabling them to develop vaccines. China will continue to work with experts in other countries to advance the fair and affordable use of vaccines.