As most of you will know, the events of the World Health Assembly (WHA) were sadly overshadowed by the sudden and unexpected death of the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr LEE Jong-wook, immediately before the meetings, on Monday May 22. His speech to the assembled delegates was later read and it contained the words: 'The lack of properly trained midwives to attend births is one area which needs swift action. The health of mothers and their babies during and just after delivery is a critical focus for improvement'. Dr LEE's interest and encouragement in this area was much appreciated by the ICM and we are in accord with colleagues at the International Council of Nurses (ICN) who paid tribute to 'A man of principles, diplomacy and humour, who was an outstanding example of inspired service to the goals of the United Nations and the moral imperative of the right to health'.
Despite the tragic beginning to the WHA, it remained a privilege and a stimulating experience to participate in the extremely busy programme of this annual meeting of the decision-making body of the World Health Organization. At a luncheon hosted by the ICN, I met Her Royal Highness Princess Muna Al-Hussein of Jordan who is the WHO patron for nursing and midwifery in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. On May 24, Princess Muna addressed the World Health Assembly with a heartfelt speech in support of nursing and midwifery:
"I am here today because I strongly believe that health workforce issues should be promoted to a much higher place on the agendas of Ministers of Health, leaders of the health professions and other policy makers. I welcome the launching of the World Health Report last month.... Improved nursing and midwifery services are essential for attaining health targets, and a prerequisite for ensuring access to quality health services. Simply speaking, well trained nurses and midwives save lives.
"Resolution WHA54.12, passed by your Assembly in 2001, urged Member States to further the development of their health systems by involving nursing and midwives in developing health policies at all levels. I see the current session of the Assembly as an opportunity for all Member States to assess where they are in the implementation and follow-up of the resolution. At the same time, I wish to encourage the distinguished delegates to invest in nursing and midwifery services in a sustainable manner. The performance of the health system cannot be improved...