The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging leaders at the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 78) to prioritize health for all and apply the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. This call comes at a time when the world is facing multiple crises, both humanitarian and climate-related, which pose threats to lives and livelihoods globally.
WHO’s appeal for the acceleration of health targets is particularly significant as it precedes the Sustainable Development Goals Summit and a series of high-level meetings focused on health during UNGA. These meetings aim to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, as well as deliver universal health coverage (UHC) and end tuberculosis (TB).
During these meetings, government leaders have the opportunity to demonstrate that health is an investment rather than a cost. They can showcase that prioritizing health is essential for the well-being of families, societies, and economies that aim to thrive and remain resilient.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, emphasizes the importance of recognizing the risks to everything when health is at stake. The pandemic has caused significant disruptions in various aspects of life, including the economy, society, and politics. Furthermore, it has hindered progress towards achieving health-related targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore, the UN General Assembly serves as a crucial moment for world leaders to showcase that they have learned from the pandemic’s painful lessons and are committed to building a healthier, safer, and fairer world for all.
While some progress has been made in reducing infant and maternal mortality, infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria have seen faltered progress or even increased rates in certain regions. Additionally, sexual and reproductive health and rights are being rolled back in many parts of the world. Access to life-saving tools and essential health services also remains uneven globally, with millions unable to obtain or afford necessary care. Furthermore, noncommunicable diseases and mental disorders, which contribute to over 70% of global deaths, threaten social and economic development worldwide. However, the pandemic has also brought positive developments, such as new technologies and a renewed commitment to equity and sharing.
Dr. Tedros emphasizes that ill health deprives individuals, families, communities, and nations of opportunities for growth and flourishing. The inability of billions of people to access or afford essential health services exposes them to poverty, easily preventable and treatable diseases like TB, and the impacts of future epidemics and pandemics. This year being WHO’s 75th anniversary, the organization aims to remind the world that health is not only a fundamental human right but also the foundation for safe, peaceful, and prosperous societies.
Dr. Tedros will lead WHO’s delegation to UNGA, with senior leadership also participating in high-level meetings and various events, including the launch of an updated UHC Global Monitoring Report.
To kickstart UNGA 78 and celebrate WHO’s 75th anniversary, the organization will host the “Walk the Talk” event on September 17th in New York’s Central Park. The event aims to promote physical and mental health and will be open to all individuals to run, walk, or use a wheelchair along a 4-mile route. Performers and speakers include renowned figures like Doug E. Fresh, Kim Sledge, Sherrie Silver, Ricky Kej, and WHO Goodwill ambassadors Cynthia Germanotta and Paul Tergat.
At the SDG Summit on September 18th and 19th, Heads of State and Government will assess the progress made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG3 related to healthy lives and well-being. The UN High-Level Meeting on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness, and Response on September 20th will offer Member States a platform to discuss pandemic prevention and preparation, as well as the associated health, social, and economic consequences. The outcome will be a declaration aiming to mobilize political will at all levels. Two panels during the meeting will focus on equity through governance and accountability, as well as capacity building and innovative financing and investment.
The High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage on September 21st aims to accelerate progress toward health for all by reviewing the implementation of the 2019 Political Declaration and identifying gaps and solutions to achieve universal health coverage by 2030. Finally, the High-Level Meeting on the fight against tuberculosis (TB) on September 22nd will review the progress made towards ending the TB epidemic by 2030 and ensuring equitable access to prevention, testing, treatment, and care. Stakeholders will come together to identify gaps and solutions for accelerating progress in this area.