World Health Assembly to focus on Covid-19, health and peace

Geneva, May 23 (IANS) The 75th World Health Assembly (WHA) has kicked off in Geneva, Switzerland, to focus on major issues including response to the continuing Covid-19 pandemic and the global health for peace initiative.

Covid-19 remains one of the top priorities of this year’s WHA, which has been the first of its kind held in Geneva and attended by delegates in person since the outbreak of the pandemic more than two years ago, Xinhua news agency reported.

Although WHO data show that reported Covid-19 cases have declined significantly from the peak of the Omicron wave in January of this year and deaths are at the lowest since March 2020, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Sunday stressed in his address to the opening of the WHA that the pandemic is not over yet, and that “it’s not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere.”

He called on all countries to commit to achieving the 70 per cent vaccination coverage as soon as possible, while prioritising the vaccination of all health workers, all over-60s and everyone at increased risk.

All countries should maintain Covid surveillance and sequencing, and be prepared to reintroduce and adjust public health and social measures as necessary, he said. Also, countries need to restore essential health services as rapidly as possible, and work with communities to build trust.

“The pandemic is not the only crisis in our world,” he said, echoing the theme of the 75th WHA “Health for Peace, Peace for Health,” and announced that the conference agenda will also include complex humanitarian crises in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.

“More even than pandemics, war shakes and shatters the foundations on which previously stable societies stood. It deprives whole communities of essential health services, leaving children at risk of vaccine preventable diseases … Indeed, war, hunger and disease are old friends,” he deplored.

WHO has verified 373 attacks on health facilities or personnel in 14 countries and territories so far this year. The attacks have claimed the lives of 154 health workers and patients and injured 131. “Attacks on health workers and health facilities are a breach of international humanitarian law. But they are also an assault on the right to health,” said Tedros.

The seven-day WHA is expected to be one with the largest number of topics discussed and resolutions passed, including the appointment of a new WHO director-general for the next five years. The incumbent chief Tedros is currently the only candidate.