Committee Overview

At the 1945 founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco, the delegates from China and Brazil suggested establishing an international health organization that works within the UN’s jurisdiction. Though a number of health organizations existed, including the International Office of Public Hygiene and the Health Organization of the League of Nations, the end of World War II called for the creation of a “single worldwide intergovernmental health organization, within the general framework of the United Nations, which would not only assume responsibility for the work of the earlier bodies but have an extended role necessitated by the new problems arising of the war.” Thus, the Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) was adopted on April 7, 1948, for the purpose of “providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.” While the WHO Secretariat leads the day-to-day operations and responds to specific health-related situations, the World Health Assembly (WHA), made up of all the WHO member states, guides the organization’s policy and strategic direction.

Topic A: Mitigating High Levels of Exposure to Carcinogenic Agents

Cancer is one of the biggest leading causes of death worldwide, with an estimated 20 million new cases and just under 10 million cancer-related deaths worldwide in 2022. By 2040, that number is only expected to increase, with an estimated 29 million cases and 15 million cancer-related deaths. Unlike most illnesses, there are a variety of risk factors, including personal choices like alcohol or tobacco use. However, many factors cannot be controlled by an individual. This often includes unwilling exposure to carcinogens, which are substances or agents capable of causing cancer. Exposure to common carcinogenic agents such as air pollutants, workplace hazards, and disease is a result of larger societal forces that individuals cannot often control. Occupational exposure, which involves exposure to carcinogens at a place of work, is a risk in many career fields and is responsible for over 300,000 deaths worldwide. Diseases such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis are also known cancer-causing infections, accounting for a disproportionate number of cancer cases. While HPV and hepatitis vaccines are widely available, implementation lags in several countries. The World Health Assembly (WHA) has remained vigilant in helping countries develop strategies to alleviate the risks of these diseases, but it remains under-equipped in other areas of cancer prevention. Delegates will have to tackle this expanding role of the WHA and how the organization will best support its various member groups in addressing this systemic issue.

Topic B: Access to “Non-Essential” Healthcare

In medicine, “non-essential” healthcare services such as dental or eye and vision care are often ignored, as other more pressing topics are considered by doctors, patients, and lawmakers. Specifically, these types of services are frequently relegated to a position of “non-essential” within hospitals. Non-essential healthcare is often defined as a medical procedure that is unnecessary to address a medical emergency. The lack of focus on these services leads to a long-term financial and physical toll on individuals. This is because many diseases require early detection, which often starts with individuals seeing medical staff for “non-essential” services. The World Health Organization recently highlighted the widespread neglect of oral health. Little progress has been made in the past three decades in reducing the rate of various oral complications, making oral disease the most prevalent non-communicable disease. Similar results have been found for visual health, with cases of short-sightedness increasing worldwide. As talks of how to balance essential and non-essential healthcare increase, delegates in the World Health Assembly (WHA) must create balanced solutions that reduce the burdens on hospitals and staff, and that all civilians can access preventative care. Delegates will have to decide where the line must be drawn between what truly is essential and non-essential healthcare.