Global leaders team up for better world health

Nurses, pharmacists and physicians from more than 60 countries gathered in Geneva for the historic first conference of the World Health Professions Alliance (WHPA) in May. The leadership symposium provided an innovative platform for interprofessional and international collaboration on health issues.

The WHPA was formed in 2000 when the International Council of Nurses (ICN) joined with the International Pharmaceutical Federation and the World Medical Association. This unique global coalition pools resources and strengthens collaboration among nurses, pharmacists and physicians for the benefit of health, citizens and policy makers worldwide. WHPA represents more than 20 million health professionals throughout the world.

At the conference nursing, pharmacy and medical leaders issued an urgent plea to all nations and health professionals to stop procrastinating on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Participants unanimously passed a resolution urging governments to recognize the scale of the tragedy and to commit immediately the necessary funds to fight the pandemic. The full text of the resolution is available at

The resolution followed a plea for support delivered by Stephen Lewis, United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

‘Advocacy is largely what is missing today. I implore nurses, pharmacists and physicians to storm the barricades. Demand that your governments provide the resources required to attain WHO's 3 × 5 goals’, he said. ‘You’re the people upon whom communities depend. The public and politicians put faith in health professionals. Let them hear you.’

The World Health Organization's (WHO) 3 × 5 initiative aims to provide antiretroviral treatment to three million people in developing countries by the end of 2005.

‘Today six million people worldwide require treatment. Roughly 3% of people with AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa are being treated’, Lewis said. ‘Governments are willing to spend billions on war, but they’re not willing to give pennies to efforts to achieve the 3 × 5 initiative. At this moment in time it is critical that your voices be heard on HIV.’

Also at the conference an informal poll of representatives attending revealed that they expect heart disease, obesity and cancer to be the top health problems in both developing and developed countries over the next five to 10 years. Respondents identified dietary change, unequal access to information and trade policies as the top trends affecting these health challenges.

While HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis were also on the priority list of developing countries, these diseases were rated low as health challenges (10 and 11, respectively, out of 16). This finding seems to indicate that the urgency of fighting the HIV pandemic has yet to be fully integrated by all health professionals.

A heavy workload, stressful work environment and insufficient staff topped the list of trends and concerns for health professionals themselves.

‘Concerns about stress, workload and retention of staff also revealed through the poll speak to issues of migration and the need for countries to find ways to retain and further train existing staff as well as reactivate staff that have left the health system’, said Judith Oulton, ICN CEO.

Results of the poll are available at

The closing plenary address was delivered by Dr Lee Jong-wook, WHO Director General. ‘It is the work of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals that turns health ideas into realities, and strategies into achievements’, he told participants. ‘Courage and tenacity will continue to be key requirements for health leadership in the future, not only in disaster areas but in the many places where health work is under-funded, under-equipped and under-staffed. The current shortages of human resources, especially in developing countries, reflect the need for an enormous effort at rethinking and rebuilding health services. Leadership from health professionals can mark the beginning of new strength and coherence in national health systems, and start the trend towards solving staff shortage problems’, he said. ‘The work of the International Council of Nurses in mobilizing skilled health workers in primary health care is already making a very valuable contribution.’

Texts of presentations given at the WHPA Leadership Symposium are available at

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