Weekend of Change for World Health Organisation

Ellen Lees
By Ellen Lees,
updated on May 28, 2019

Weekend of Change for World Health Organisation

Significant changes have been made to the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases following the 72nd World Health Assembly

The World Health Assembly is a World Health Organisation (WHO) event held annually in Geneva, Switzerland. This year, the week-long event took place from Monday 20 May and concludes today.

Attended by delegations from all WHO Member States, the Assembly focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board. It is a time for delegates to review and determine the policies of the organisation, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget.

A number of changes have been proposed and approved, including the agreement of a new global strategy on health, environment and climate change and a five-year global action plan to promote the health of refugees and migrants.

On 25 May, WHO delegates agreed to adopt the 11th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11). This will come into effect from 1 January 2022.

What is the ICD-11?

ICD is the foundation for the identification of health trends and statistics globally. It is the international standard for reporting diseases and health conditions. Understanding what makes people unwell, and what eventually ends their life, is at the core of mapping disease trends and epidemics, deciding how to programme health services, allocating healthcare spending, and investing in improving therapies and prevention.

Significant changes to the ICD include:

Burn-out is now recognised as a medical condition - the WHO has defined burn-out as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and characterises the condition with four factors:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job
  • feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • reduced professional efficacy.

The ICD-11 only refers to the above within work environment and states that burn-out should not be applied to describe symptoms by other life situations.

Gaming addiction has been added as an official illness - defined as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (digital gaming or video gaming) which may be online or offline.” Gaming disorder, as it is now recognised in the ICD-11 is characterised by:

  • impaired control over gaming
  • increasing priority given to gaming over other activities
  • continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the WHO state that the behaviour must be “of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”

While the decision has been met with controversy, with many firms calling for the WHO to rethink the classification, others understand the changes. Twitter user, game creator and player Amon26 tweeted: “I agree that gaming disorder is a real thing. It's tough, because a game’s supposed to create a positive feedback loop in the audience, but the right kind of game, the right kind of person, and that relationship becomes very unhealthy.

“ our work and social lives become partially grafted into this cyber-structure, so does our play, our escapism, our breathing room. It takes shape here in digital with all its warts and blemishes. We’re not a better version of ourselves here.

“This is a really painful growth spurt for us. It’s changing us, but it’s also damaging us. Will we survive through it? Or will this be our last act?”

‘Transgender’ has been removed from list of mental disorders - on Friday 25 May, the WHA approved legislation that will no longer categorise being transgender as a mental health condition. The decision has been said to have the potential to “liberate trans and non-binary people worldwide”.

LGBT Rights Directory at Human Rights Watch, Graeme Reid said: “Transgender people are fighting stigma and discrimination that can be traced in part to medical systems that have historically diagnosed expressions of gender non-conformity as a mental pathology.

“But it’s the stigma, discrimination and bullying - and not anything inherent in gender non-conformity - that can inflict mental health problems in transgender people,” continues Reid. “Governments should swifty reform national medical systems and laws that require this now officially outdated diagnosis.”

The decision has received much support on social media, with charity Mermaids posting: “We're pleased to see that WHO has removed being transgender from its list of mental disorders.”

And LGBT+ publisher Pink News tweeting: “Being trans is not an illness.”

While there is still quite a way to go in breaking the stigma, discrimination and bullying that LGBT+ people face, this acknowledgement from the WHO and the review of ICD-11 is a significant step in the right direction.

Find out more about the 72nd World Health Assembly.

Worried you may be experiencing burnout? Learn more about the warning signs of burnout, and discover 10 Ways to Overcome Burnout.

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