World Health Assembly to adopt resolution to strengthen preparedness for health emergencies

The resolution urges WHO members to increase domestic investment and ensure public funding for health emergency preparedness

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Wednesday 11 November 2020
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO speaks at the start of the World Health Assembly. Photo: @GermanyUNGeneva / Twitter

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has provided a new impetus for putting in place plans to prepare for health emergencies in the future. 

On November 10, 2020, the second day of the resumed 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA), Committee A recommended that the resolution to strengthen preparedness for health emergencies be adopted.

The committee deals with programme and budget matters. The WHA is the forum through which the World Health Organization (WHO) is governed by its 194 member states.

The draft resolution, which is likely to be adopted November 13, renews the commitment to better prepare for health emergencies and compliance with the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005). 

IHR 2005 provides a legal framework that defines countries’ rights and obligations in handling public health events and emergencies that have the potential to cross borders. This is legally binding on all members of the WHO. 

Despite this, there are recurrent cases of trans-border spread of diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic, which spread from China, is a good example of how stricter regulations can help.

The new resolution to be adopted November 13, urges WHO member states to increase domestic investment and ensure public funding for health emergency preparedness. The countries would also need to improve decision-making processes and enhance institutional capacity and infrastructure for public health. 

This would ensure that all countries are better equipped to detect and respond to cases of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

This is important. That is because other than the pandemic, the WHO also had to deal with 60 more health emergencies during the pandemic period. These included major outbreaks of Chikungunya in Chad, yellow fever in Gabon and Togo and measles in Mexico. Natural calamities and civil wars added to these emergencies.

There were instances where the pandemic disrupted regular health services such as polio vaccination campaigns in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When WHO surveyed 105 countries in August, they found there was disruption to 25 essential health services in all countries. This included outpatient care, diagnosis and treatment for communicable and non-communicable diseases, family planning, mental health conditions and more. 

More than 47 million COVID-19 cases have now been reported to WHO. More than 1.2 million people have lost their lives. “We might be tired of COVID-19. But it is not tired of us,” WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in his speech inaugurating the resumed WHA session being organised virtually between November 9 and November 14. 

WHO has identified three main learnings from the pandemic: First, we can beat COVID-19 with science, solutions and solidarity. Second, we must not backslide on our critical health goals. Third, we must prepare for the next pandemic now.

The pandemic has highlighted that healthier populations, universal health coverage and global health security are linked and countries with better health emergency preparedness infrastructure were able to act quickly and control the spread of the virus. 

Ghebreyesus pointed out that though a vaccine was needed urgently to control the pandemic, it won’t fix vulnerabilities. For example, a vaccine cannot address the under-investment in essential public health functions and resilient health systems, nor the urgent need for a ‘One Health’ approach that encompasses the health of humans, animals and the planet we share. 

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.