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“Make changes to get ready for the next pandemic”

On Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), encouraged nations to be ready for new pandemics and other threats.

When presenting his findings to the 76th World Health Assembly, the governing body of the UN agency, Ghebreyesus issued the following warning: “The end of COVID-19 as a global health emergency is not the end of COVID-19 as a global health threat.”

He continued by saying that even if COVID-19 would no longer constitute a worldwide public health emergency, nations must nonetheless step up their efforts to combat the illness.

The risk of a new virus arising with even greater capacity for death also persists, as does the risk of another variety causing new outbreaks of sickness and death.

Furthermore, he continued, “pandemics are far from the only threat we face” in the face of overlapping and merging crises, highlighting the need for efficient global systems that address and respond to emergencies of all types.

He warned, “We must be ready to respond decisively, jointly, and fairly when the next epidemic comes knocking – and it will.

Tedros claimed that COVID-19 had important ramifications for the 2030 deadline-based Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which featured health-related targets.

The triple billion ambitions, announced during the 2017 World Health Assembly, were similarly hampered by the pandemic.

A billion more people must have universal health care, another billion must be better protected from medical emergencies, and still more must have improved health and wellbeing, according to the five-year effort.

According to Tedros, the number of people who now have access to universal health coverage has increased to 477 million. By the end of the decade, he cautioned, fewer than half of the world’s population will be covered, “meaning we must at least double the pace.”

COVID-19 also demonstrated the need for greater emergency protection for the eight billion people on the planet—basically everyone.

He remarked, “The pandemic has blown us off course, but it has shown us why the SDGs must remain our north star, and why we must pursue them with the same urgency and determination as we countered the pandemic.”

Additionally, Tedros highlighted a number of successes in the “five Ps”—promote, provide, protect, power, and perform for health—over the previous year.

For instance, nations have made steps to avoid sickness and deal with its underlying causes in an effort to enhance health. 133 nations imposed or instituted additional taxes between 2017 and 2022 on unhealthy products including tobacco and sugary drinks.

He said, “We also see heartening progress in removing industrially produced trans-fat from the world’s food supply. “Many nations have also made remarkable strides in lowering salt intake, a major cardiovascular disease risk factor.”

Regarding protection, Tedros pointed out that only polio is currently a global public health emergency following the cessation of COVID-19 and mpox.

The number of instances surged last year, with 20 cases in Pakistan, two in Afghanistan, and eight in Mozambique, following an all-time low of five wild poliovirus incidences in 2021.

The WHO and its partners “remain steadfastly committed to finishing the job of consigning polio to history,” he emphasised.

“So the world will never again have to face the devastation of a pandemic like COVID-19,” he urged, “urgent and constructive negotiations must take place on the new global pandemic accord and the International Health Regulations (IHR), the treaty that governs preparedness and response to health emergencies.”

Additionally, he requested that nations raise their financial assistance for the activities of the WHO by 20%.