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The World Health Organization is the UN’s specialized agency for health.

The decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO) is the World Health Assembly (WHA), which is held annually in May in Geneva.

The World Health Assembly is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the WHO Executive Board. The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of the Organisation, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget.

As a Non-State Actor in official relations with WHO, ESMO is invited to attend WHO meetings. ESMO regularly attends the World Health Assembly and delivers official statements and recommendations on cancer-related topics.

In 2017, the World Health Assembly adopted the landmark WHO ‘Cancer Resolution’ to serve as a roadmap for governments to implement actions to reduce deaths from cancer by 25% by 2025 and 33% by 2030, in addition to achieving universal health coverage by 2030.

ESMO supported the 2017 WHO ‘Cancer Resolution’ as part of its longstanding collaborating with WHO since 2002.

In 2013, ESMO was granted ‘official relations status’ by the WHO Executive Board based on multiple year joint work plans related to projects on the availability of cancer and palliative medicine, scaling-up national cancer control plans, improving survival rates in childhood cancer, eliminating cervical cancer, and optimizing the cancer workforce.

Watch the video by Dr. Ilbawi, WHO Technical Officer for Cancer Control on the 2017 WHO Cancer Resolution and WHO-ESMO collaboration


ESMO delivered an official statement in support of the WHO ‘COVID-19 Response’ Resolution unanimously adopted at the 2020 World Health Assembly, 18-19 May 2020.

ESMO welcomed the WHO strategy and supports WHO’s recommendations to address a wide range of challenges the pandemic poses to people with health issues, especially due to service disruption, lack of sufficient resources, and patient travel restrictions.

The ESMO statement calls on governments to especially protect people at high-risk of COVID-19 such as healthcare professionals and people with pre-existing conditions, including cancer. It requests that health authorities secure the availability of essential cancer and palliative services, and notes that the ESMO-Magnitude of Clinical Benefit Scale can help support value-based decisions for resource allocation. Where shortages exist, ESMO asks governments to provide institutes and clinicians with ethical and methodological decision-making guidance. For cancer patients who cannot, or are afraid to, travel to a hospital for treatment it is essential that countries have in place an action plan.

The ESMO statement makes WHO and its Member States aware that ESMO is fully supporting WHO’s global efforts through our ESMO COVID-19 and Cancer Portal, which includes information, educational materials, ESMO recommendations for cancer management in the era of COVID-19 for oncology professionals, an ESMO Guide for Cancer Patients on cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic, and links to WHO norms and guidance. In addition, the ESMO Statement raises awareness of the ESMO-CoCARE Registry, which is an international collaborative initiative with a cross-tumour database, designed to gather clinical data on the virus’s impact on cancer patients in order to provide recommendations on how to minimise their risks during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the recovery phase.

During the 2019 WHA, an ESMO statement requested that the 2019 UN Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) specifically state: ‘Country governments must guarantee their entire population ‘UHC benefit packages’ that ensure financial protection, and include a core set of comprehensive, safe, affordable, effective and high-quality health services for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care of noncommunicable diseases, including cancer, delivered by an adequate, and well-trained workforce’. The final version of the 2019 UN Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage includes all of the points mentioned in the ESMO statement.

A second ESMO statement focussed on the WHO ‘Draft roadmap for access to medicines, vaccines and other health products, 2019-2023’. The roadmap aligns with the WHO 2019-2023 triple billion target to ensure that one billion more people benefit from UHC; one billion more people have better protection from health emergencies; and one billion more people enjoy better health and well-being. The ESMO statement called for the need to ensure that access to medicines is improved not only at the primary healthcare level but also at the secondary and tertiary levels where cancer care is provided. Subsequent WHO documents include mention of the need to strengthen of primary care and referral services to secondary and tertiary care.

WHO Meeting

During the 2018 World Health Assembly, ESMO emphasized the importance of cancer as a priority on the WHO global agenda. An ESMO statement advocated for the strengthening of health systems to achieve Universal Health Coverage and to provide essential healthcare services to the millions of cancer patients who die prematurely due to lack of access to appropriate treatment. In particular, ESMO called on the WHO to ensure that governments would be required to take specific actions in the interest of cancer control. A second ESMO statement on the issue of shortages of medicines ESMO provided WHO with recommendations by ESMO and the Economist Intelligence Unit on how to prevent shortages and supported the WHO Global Reporting System which will monitor the supply of essential cancer medicines.

An ESMO statement was delivered during the 2017 World Health Assembly supporting the adoption of the 2017 WHO Cancer Resolution whose aim is to reduce cancer deaths and achieve universal health coverage. The actions recommended in the Resolution are designed to improve access and affordability of quality cancer care and its integration into national healthcare systems. As an organisation representing medical oncologists, ESMO supports WHO policies that ensure patients have timely access to safe, affordable, effective, high-quality medicines, treatment and care.

During the 2016 World Health Assembly, ESMO co-hosted a side-event on the topic of ‘Are we making the right investments for optimal cancer control? A global dialogue’. The outcome of this event was that several governments called on the WHO to present a ‘Cancer Resolution’ for adoption during the 2017 World Health Assembly.

ESMO, the UICC, the NCD Alliance and other endorsing partners delivered a joint statement at the 2014 World Health Assembly in Geneva supporting the WHO Resolution ‘Strengthening of palliative care as a component of integrated treatment throughout the life course’. The WHO 'Palliative Care Resolution' was subsequently adopted by the WHO Member States and calls for increased access to palliative care to relieve unnecessary suffering worldwide.

Subsequently in 2016, ESMO supported a successful international initiative to ensure that the Outcome Document of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem contained recommendation to ensure access to controlled substances, such as opioids, for legitimate medical and scientific purposes, while preventing their diversion.

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