World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that countries must still strengthen response to the coronavirus disease and prepare for future pandemics and other threats, although Covid-19 may no longer be a public health emergency.
Delivering his report to the 76th World Health Assembly in Geneva, he told member states that the threat of another variant emerging that causes new surges of disease and death remains, and the threat of another pathogen emerging with even deadlier potential remains.
In the face of overlapping and converging crises, pandemics were far from the only threat countries face, he said, underscoring the need for effective global mechanisms that address and respond to emergencies of all kinds.
“When the next pandemic comes knocking – and it will – we must be ready to answer decisively, collectively, and equitably,” he advised, and said that COVID-19 had significant implications for health-related targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which had a deadline of 2030. The pandemic affected progress towards the triple billion targets, announced at the 2017 World Health Assembly.
The five-year initiative calls for ensuring one billion more people have universal health coverage, a billion more are better protected from health emergencies, and another billion more enjoy better health and well-being. Tedros Ghebreyesus said that countries have made progress on universal health coverage, with some 477 million people now benefitting.
However, he warned that if current trends continue, fewer than half the world’s people will be covered by the end of the decade, “meaning we must at least double the pace.” COVID-19 also showed that eight billion people – basically everyone on the planet – need to be better protected in emergencies.
“The pandemic has blown us off course, but it has shown us why the SDGs must remain our north star, and why we must pursue them with the same urgency and determination with which we countered the pandemic.” He highlighted achievements that have been made over the past year – promoting, providing, protecting, powering, and performing for health.
“We also see encouraging progress in eliminating industrially-produced trans-fat from the global food supply,” he said. “Many countries have also made impressive progress in reducing salt intake, a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease.” On protection, the WHO chief noted that with the end of COVID-19 and mpox as global public health emergencies, only polio now remains.
WHO chief calls for urgent and constructive negotiations on new global pandemic accord and International Health Regulations
Following an all-time low of five wild poliovirus cases in 2021, numbers increased last year, with 20 cases in Pakistan, two in Afghanistan, and eight in Mozambique. He stressed that WHO and partners remain steadfastly committed to finishing the job of consigning polio to history. The Sustainable Development Goals are a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.
Tedros Ghebreyesus concluded his remarks by urging countries to pick up the pace of progress on the triple billion and health-related development goal targets. He called for urgent and constructive negotiations on the new global pandemic accord and the International Health Regulations (IHR).
It is pertinent to mention here that the global pandemic accord governs preparedness and response to health emergencies, so the world will never again have to face devastation of a pandemic like COVID-19. He also asked countries to support a 20 per cent increase in their contributions to support the work of WHO.