The poor progress on the triple billion health targets will weigh heavily as WHO’s current chief readies for a second term.
In his opening remarks at the 150th session of the executive board of the World Health Organisation today, director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stressed on the need “to urgently strengthen the systems and tools for epidemic and pandemic preparedness and response at all levels.”
Over two years, almost 350 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported together with over 5.5 million deaths.
On the cusp of the third year since the spread of COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency of international concern – the highest level of alarm under international law, he said that while the world will be living with COVID for the foreseeable future, “learning to live with COVID cannot mean that we give this virus a free ride. It cannot mean that we accept almost 50,000 deaths a week, from a preventable and treatable disease.”
He reiterated the set of strategies proposed by the world organisation and said that “If countries use all of these strategies and tools in a comprehensive way, we can end the acute phase of the pandemic this year.”
The strategies rest mainly on achieving 70 per cent vaccinations in all countries, boosting testing and sequencing rates globally to track the virus and monitor the emergence of new variants and restoring and sustaining essential health services.
But besides COVID-19, there have been achievements on the communicable diseases front, especially with the world’s first malaria vaccine ready for use. Eight countries achieved the 90–90–90 targets for testing, treatment access, and viral suppression of HIV by the end of 2020 and 15 countries have eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
“Despite the disruptions of the pandemic, 86 countries globally achieved the end-TB strategy milestone for 2020 of reducing TB incidence,” he said.
But he also said that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted work to advance towards the “triple billion” targets of WHO’s thirteenth general programme of work (GPW defines WHO’s five-year strategy).
Crucial plans off target
The WHO director general proposed a two-year extension of the GPW to 2025, to be able to achieve the organisation’s triple billion targets – ensuring a billion people each benefit from universal health coverage; are better protected from health emergencies; and enjoy better health and well-being.
He admitted that “the world was off track for the “triple billion” targets,” even before the pandemic. “Now, we’re even further behind,” he said.
Today, the WHO also got new members countries on its board. These include Colombia, Guinea Bissau, India, Madagascar, Malaysia, Peru, India, Tonga and Tunisia.
In the run up to the agency’s annual assembly meeting, 28 countries have already written letter of nominations for a second five-year term for Tedros Adhanom. This is to come up at the current session of WHO’s executive board. He will stand uncontested for the position.
However, The United States, United Kingdom and China haven’t expressed support, though they haven’t nominated anyone else either.
“This could be a modest vote of confidence in Tedros, an acknowledgement that a competitor would not prevail, or a matter of pandemic practicality,” wrote the science journal Nature.
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