Director-General of World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, says the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the consequences of chronic under-investment in public health.
Ghebreyesus said this in his closing remarks at the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) held virtually in Geneva.
The WHA is the decision-making body of the WHO, attended by delegations from all member states.
Ghebreyesus said during the meeting that the pandemic had also ignited a socio-economic crisis that impacted billions of lives and livelihoods and undermined global stability and solidarity.
He added that “returning to the status quo is not an option. We don’t just need more investment in public health. We must also rethink how we value health.
“The time has come for a new narrative that sees health not as a cost, but an investment that should form the foundation of productive, resilient and stable economies.
“To start building that narrative, I am proud to announce that we are establishing a new Council on the Economics of Health for All.
“The council will focus on the links between health and sustainable, inclusive and innovation-led economic growth.”
According to him, the pandemic has also shown that there is an urgent need for a globally agreed system for sharing pathogen materials and clinical samples, to facilitate the rapid development of medical countermeasures as global public goods.
“It can’t be based on bilateral agreements, and it can’t take years to negotiate.
“We are proposing a new approach that will include a repository for materials, housed by WHO in a secure Swiss facility.
“An agreement that sharing materials into this repository is voluntary; that WHO can facilitate the transfer and use of the materials; and a set of criteria under which WHO will distribute them.’’
The director general thanked member states for their flexibility, goodwill and pragmatism in adapting to the constraints of dealing with a large agenda virtually, across multiple time zones.
He said “in spite of the challenges, this Assembly has been very productive, as you will agree with me.
“You have approved a comprehensive resolution on emergency preparedness; a new roadmap to defeat meningitis by 2030; a new roadmap for neglected tropical diseases; a resolution on scaled-up action on epilepsy and other neurological disorders.
“You declared 2021 as the International Year of Health and Care Workers; through a written silence procedure, you have also adopted the Immunisation Agenda 2030.
“Also, you approved the Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer as a public health problem, as well as the Global Strategy for TB Research and Innovation.
“In addition, you approved resolution on the Decade of Healthy Ageing; the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property, as well as resolutions on eye care and food safety.”
According to him, each of these represents an urgent health priority that affects the lives of millions of people, and which increases the demands and expectations of WHO.
“We look forward to working with all Member States in the coming weeks and months to build a WHO with increased capabilities and the resources to meet these demands and expectations,” he added.
The main functions of the WHA are to determine the policies of the organisation, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, as well as review and approve the proposed programme budget.
The WHA usually takes place in May, but this year, given the COVID-19 pandemic, a reduced (de minimis) WHA took place on May 18 and May 19.
The resumed WHA73, which started on November 9, ended on Friday.