COVID-19 illustrates why investment must be central to development — WHO

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), says COVID-19 is not just a global health emergency but illustrates why investment must be central to development.

Ghebreyesus said at the two-day ongoing virtual World Health Assembly in Geneva.

The director-general said: “pandemic is a vivid demonstration of the fact that there is no health security without resilient health systems, or without addressing the social, economic, commercial and environmental determinants of health.

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“More than ever, the pandemic illustrates why investing in health must be at the centre of development.

“I will repeat this: more than ever, the pandemic illustrates why investing in health must be at the centre of development.

“We are learning the hard way that health is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. It is a necessity. Health is not a reward for development; it is a prerequisite.

“Health is not a cost; it’s an investment. “Health is a pathway to security, prosperity and peace.”

According to him, 40 years ago, the nations of the world came together under the banner of WHO to rid the world of smallpox.

“They showed that when solidarity triumphs over ideology, anything is possible. The COVID-19 pandemic is posing a similar threat – not just to human health, but to the human spirit.

“We have a long road ahead in our struggle against this virus. The pandemic has tested, strengthened and strained the bonds of fellowship between nations but it has not broken them.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is asking us two fundamental questions: what sort of world do we want? And what sort of WHO do we want?

“The answer to the first question will determine the answer to the second. Now more than ever, we need a healthier world.

“Now more than ever, we need a safer world. Now more than ever, we need a fairer world. Healthy, safe and fair.

“And now more than ever, we need a stronger WHO. There is no other way forward but together,” said Ghebreyesus.

He said he made a priority of transforming WHO into an organisation that is agile and responsive, focused on outcomes and impact since his election to the assembly three years ago.

“Two years ago, I presented and this Assembly approved the cornerstone of our transformation: WHO’s 13th General Programme of Work.

“At its heart are the ambitious “triple billion” targets: one billion more people enjoying better health and well-being.

“One billion more people benefiting from universal health coverage and one billion more people better protected from health emergencies.

“These are the targets that the world has set itself to achieve by 2023, to get on track and stay on track for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he said.

The WHO Results Report launched on Monday, he said, provided a comprehensive picture of what WHO, its Member States and partners had achieved in the past two years.

“On healthy populations, we’ve made important progress to improve the air people breathe, the food they eat and the water they drink.

“We have made progress to improve the roads they use, and the conditions in which they live and work are the most important, actually, in bringing health.

“On universal health coverage, the world came together last year to endorse the political declaration on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) – an unprecedented commitment to the ideal of health for all.

“We have expanded access to prevention, testing and treatment for HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis C, hypertension, diabetes, cancer and more.

“And to keep the world safe, WHO has investigated and, when necessary, responded to more than 900 events in 141 countries.

“That includes coordinating a huge and complex response to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, complicated by violence, a mobile population and a weak health system,” Ghebreyesus said.

According to him, all of these efforts have been supported by an increased focus on science, evidence and data.

In the coming year, he said the agency would launch the WHO Academy to provide training for millions of more health workers around the world.

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“And the WHO Foundation will be launched in the next few weeks, to broaden WHO’s donor base. I am proud of the progress WHO has made in these and many other areas,” he said.

Ghebreyesus, however, said much work needed to be done, adding that even before COVID-19, the world was off the track for the SDGs.

“The pandemic threatens to set us back even further. It exploits and exacerbates existing gaps in gender equality, poverty, hunger and more.

“Already we have seen the impact of the pandemic on immunisation campaigns and many other essential health services.

“But the challenges we face cannot be an excuse to abandon hope of achieving the “triple billion” targets or the SDGs.

“On the contrary, they must serve as motivation to redouble our efforts, and to work aggressively in pursuit of the healthier, safer, fairer world we all want,” he said.

The two-day World Health Assembly is holding as WHO is struggling to stop the spread of the COVID-19 and map out easing of associate stay-at-home orders and lockdowns.

Member states are discussing a resolution on improving access to COVID-19 diagnostics, and pending treatment and vaccines, as well as calls to investigate the origin of the virus and early response to the outbreak.




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