• 14 Jul, 2024

Maintaining hope for health

As we conclude a year full of milestones and challenges for global health, our commitment to health for all continues.

by Doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director General of the World Health Organization. 2023 was a year full of milestones and challenges for global health.

Last May, we declared the end of COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern. This was a turning point for the world after three years of crisis and suffering and loss for all people.

Glad to see your life is back on track. The WHO also announced that the Mpox outbreak no longer represents a global public health emergency.

We have approved new vaccines for malaria, dengue and meningitis, diseases that threaten millions of people around the world, especially the most vulnerable. Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Belize have been declared malaria-free, and several countries have eliminated neglected tropical diseases, including sleeping sickness in Ghana, trachoma in Benin, Mali and Iraq, and lymphatic filariasis in Bangladesh and Laos.

Polio, another vaccine-preventable disease, is nearing its end. As global progress is made in eradicating cervical cancer, 30 countries have introduced the HPV vaccine.

The need to address the health effects of the climate crisis has been raised to the highest political level, with governments, scientists and advocates adding health to the top of the COP28 agenda for the first time and announcing the Global Declaration on Climate and Health. Heads of state at the United Nations General Assembly worked to promote universal health, end tuberculosis and protect the world from future pandemics.

Each of these achievements and others have demonstrated the power of science, solutions and collaboration to protect and promote health. But 2023 will also be a year of great unavoidable suffering and health risks.

Hamas's barbaric attack on Israel on October 7 left around 1,200 people dead and more than 200 hostages taken. Reports of gender-based violence and hostage abuse are deplorable.

Destructive attacks on Gaza followed, killing more than 21,000 people, mostly women and children, and injuring more than 55,000. In addition, hospitals and medical personnel were repeatedly attacked, and relief efforts did not meet the needs of the population.

As of December 22, only nine of Gaza's 36 health facilities were partially operational, and only four in the north provided the most basic services. For this reason, we once again call for an immediate ceasefire.

Unfortunately, war and armed conflict affect many parts of the world, including Sudan, Ukraine, Ethiopia and Myanmar. I witnessed firsthand the suffering of war-weary people in northwest Syria, as did the communities I visited in neighboring Turkey. They were affected by the terrible earthquake in February.

Without peace there is no health, and without health there is no peace. Insecurity, poverty and lack of clean water and sanitation have led to the spread of infectious diseases in many countries.

Of particular concern is the resurgence of cholera, with more than 40 cases reported worldwide. Gaps remain in the world's preparedness to prevent the next pandemic in emergency preparedness and response.

But 2024 offers a unique opportunity to close that gap. For the first time, governments are negotiating a global agreement to protect communities, countries and the world from infectious disease threats.

The Pandemic Agreement is designed to address gaps in global cooperation, solidarity and equity. Agreements and plans to strengthen international health regulations are landmark efforts by governments to create a safer and healthier world.

As WHO celebrates its 75th anniversary as a World Health Organization, we would like to express our sincere gratitude to WHO's health experts, partners and colleagues who have journeyed with us towards the goal of Health for All. Finally, I hope the New Year brings peace, health and prosperity to everyone around the world, and I'm sure everyone will join me in this festive season.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the editorial position of Voice of Urdu.