Guterres calls for ‘sustained political commitment’ for a healthier world
© WHO/Junior D. Kannah | WHO is supporting African countries in implementing mass vaccination campaigns.
United Nations, 16 October 2022
The UN chief on Sunday called for governments worldwide to prioritize healthcare, in a call to make a “sustained political commitment” so their countries can be better prepared against future shocks, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To accomplish this, “wealthier countries and international financial institutions need to support developing countries to make these crucial investments”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
In an address to the opening of the World Health Summit in Berlin, via a video message, he began by noting how poorly prepared most of the world is, for crises. The annual gathering is being hosted by the presidents of Germany, France and Senegal, alongside WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Women have been among the hardest hit. They are shouldering an increased burden of care, in families and as frontline workers”, he said. But at the same time, many women has lost income due to job loss, and inadequate safety nets. He said COVID and now the food, energy and financial shocks spinning out from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are threatening the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and poverty reduction efforts.
To advance the SDGs, “we must recalibrate multilateralism and strengthen global cooperation”, he added.
Failing the developing world
Too little is being invested in health and well-being and the “unbalanced global financial system is failing the developing world”, he declared. “This must change. All people need inclusive, impartial and equitable access to health services, to deliver universal health coverage”, including neglected mental healthcare services. Combined, good health is the foundation, for peaceful and stable societies, he said.
Paradigm shift away from ‘sick care’: Tedros
In his remarks at the opening ceremony, WHO chief Tedros said to fulfill the theme of “taking global health to a new level” in the year ahead, this translated into three key priorities. First, the new pandemic accord being negotiated by countries, and for countries, was key, so the world can truly come together as one in the face of further pandemics on a par with COVID-19.
“It will not give WHO any powers to do anything without the express permission of sovereign nation States”, he reassured. Second, a new “global architecture” is needed “that is coherent and inclusive.” The fractured COVID response made it clear that new and better tools are needed to shore it all up.
Thirdly, a new global approach must be taken which prioritises promoting health and preventing disease, not just treating the sick. Too many health systems “do not deliver healthcare, they deliver sick care”, he said. Healthcare needs to be no longer just about one ministry or sector, but “of the whole of government, and the whole of society.”
Lacks family in new Goodwill Ambassador role
In another development on Sunday, WHO chief Tedros announced the appointment of the Lacks family, as WHO Goodwill Ambassadors for Cervical Cancer Elimination.
Henrietta Lacks, an impoverished African-American woman, died in 1951 from the disease, but left behind an extraordinary legacy through the unique properties of her cancer cells, which became the first “immortal” cell line, able to replicate outside the human body, providing countless medical breakthroughs since then.
The so-called HeLa cells were taken from her without her knowledge or consent: “Much like the injustice of Henrietta Lacks’ story, women all over the world from racial and minority ethnic groups, face disproportionately higher risks from cervical cancer”, said Tedros.
Cervical cancer elimination
“WHO’s goal is to eliminate cervical cancer, which means the innovations created”, with her cells, “must be made available equitably to all women and girls. We look forward to working with the Lacks family to raise awareness on cervical cancer and advance racial equity in health and science.” Speaking at a ceremony during the World Health Summit, Alfred Lacks Carter Jr. said the family was accepting the honour to serve as Goodwill Ambassadors, “in the spirit of my mother, Deborah Lacks, who lost her mother, Henrietta, to cervical cancer, and worked to make certain the world recognizes her impact.”