Ahead of global health assembly, WHO stresses need for solidarity, preparation

University of Oxford/John Cairns Samples are tested by scientists at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute as the development of a vaccine against the coronavirus continues.    

The COVID-19 pandemic can be defeated through science, solutions and solidarity, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, underlining one of its core messages throughout the crisis. 

The reminder comes ahead of next week’s World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of the UN agency’s decision-making body, which normally takes place in May but had to be cut short this year due to the pandemic. 

There are more than 47 million COVID-19 cases, and over 1.2 million deaths, according to latest figures.  The Assembly will chart the course for response and global health priorities. 

Crisis unites the world 

“Although this is a global crisis, many countries and cities have successfully prevented or controlled transmission with a comprehensive, evidence-based approach”, said WHO

“For the first time, the world has rallied behind a plan to accelerate the development of the vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics we need, and to ensure they are available to all countries on the basis of equity. The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator is delivering real results.” 

A second message WHO is highlighting now is the importance of not backsliding on critical health goals, including achieving the “triple billion” targets by 2023. 

Don’t neglect health goals 

The goal is to see one billion more people worldwide benefiting from universal health coverage, a further billion more better protected from health emergencies, and around a billion citizens enjoying better health and well-being. 

The World Health Assembly is attended by representatives from more than 190 countries.  Since May, nations have adopted several decisions, including on immunization, healthy ageing, cervical cancer, tuberculosis, eye care and food safety. 

The resumed session will discuss a 10-year plan to address neglected tropical diseases, and other concerns such as meningitis, epilepsy and other neurological disorders, maternal infant and young child nutrition, as well as digital health. 

Prepare for future pandemics 

For its third message ahead of the virtual meeting, WHO stressed the need to prepare now for the next pandemic. 

“We’ve seen this past year that countries with robust health emergency preparedness infrastructure have been able to act quickly to contain and control the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus”, said the agency, referring to the virus that causes COVID-19. 

The Assembly will consider a draft resolution that aims to strengthen countries’ preparedness, and to ensure they are better equipped to detect and respond to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. 

UN boosts efforts 

Relatedly, UN leaders working on sustainable development met virtually on Thursday to assess preliminary results and challenges of joint work supporting more than 160 countries and territories during the pandemic. 

So far, UN teams have repurposed around $3 billion of existing funding, while also mobilizing nearly $2 billion for these efforts, aimed at helping countries to both overcome the crisis and recover better. 

The UN Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG) also outlined some of its actions over recent months. 

‘A development emergency of global proportions’ 

These included supporting authorities with delivering nutrition programmes to nearly five million people, with seven million women receiving maternal health services. 

“For the first time, we all recognize this is a development emergency of global proportions. Governments, communities, and citizens have mobilized accordingly – and our UN teams too have stepped up, together, from the onset of the pandemic to address the health, humanitarian and socioeconomic needs.  In many ways this is an expression of global solidarity and response to the most vulnerable. But much more needs to be done, even faster,” said Amina J. Mohammed, the UN Deputy Secretary-General and the UNSDG Chair. 

UN chiefs have pledged to do more, including to boost data collection as a means to address those most in need