GENEVA – The World Health Organization is launching a campaign to build a fairer, healthier post-pandemic world by tackling poverty and health inequities. In marking this year’s World Health Day, the WHO is issuing a call for action to improve the health of all people.
The COVID-19 pandemic reveals in stark detail the disparities that exists between those who have access to the health care and vaccines that are likely to save their lives and those who do not and are more likely to die from this disease.
Latest World Health Organization figures show close to 132 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including more than 2.8 million deaths globally. The U.N. agency says so far, more than 604 million vaccine doses have been administered, most in about a dozen of the world’s wealthiest countries.
While everyone is affected by the pandemic, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the poorest and most marginalized are hardest hit in terms of lives and livelihoods lost. He says vital changes must be made in the year ahead to achieve greater equity between the haves and have-nots.
“We need to invest in equitable production and access to COVID-19 rapid tests, oxygen, treatments and vaccines between and within countries.…There must be a serious investment in primary health care and getting health services to every member of every community,” he said.
Tedros noted the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility has delivered 36 million doses to 86 low-and-middle-income countries and economies. He said production and equitable distribution must be scaled up as this remains the major barrier to ending the acute stage of this pandemic.
Tedros said the pandemic has exposed the fragility of global health systems. He said at least half of the world’s population lacks access to essential health services, adding out-of-pocket expenses on health drive nearly 100 million people into poverty each year.
“As countries move forward post-COVID-19, it will be vital to avoid cuts in public spending on health and other social sectors.…They will weaken health system performance, increase health risks, add to fiscal pressure in the future and undermine development gains,” he said.
Tedros urged governments to spend an additional one 1% of GDP on primary health care. This, he said, will improve both equity and efficiency.
The WHO chief noted the pandemic is a global crisis that requires a global response. Tedros reiterated what he has said on many previous occasions — that no one is safe until everyone is safe.