WHO Chief Highlights Global Health Challenges, Progress Amid Crises

GENEVA – Despite significant advancements, the World Health Organization (WHO) chief announced on Monday that only 585 million more people will gain access to essential health services without catastrophic health spending by 2025. This falls short of the UN’s goal of reaching 1 billion people.

During the annual World Health Assembly (WHA), WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reported that 2 billion people face financial hardship due to out-of-pocket health expenses.

“Although 30% of countries have made progress since 2000 on both service coverage and financial protection, at the global level, we’re going backwards on financial protection,” Tedros said in his WHA report.

Half of the world’s population lacked full coverage of essential health services as of 2023, a year marked by numerous global emergencies. Tedros noted the WHO’s response to 65 crises, including earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, and conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Gaza, Haiti, Myanmar, Sudan, and Ukraine. The organization also tackled outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, dengue, diphtheria, hepatitis E, Marburg, measles, and mpox.

Tedros emphasized the WHO’s efforts to provide health services in conflict zones like Gaza, Sudan, and Ukraine, and called for immediate ceasefires in these regions.

At the second High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Care at the UN General Assembly, countries made over 50 commitments to expand access to essential health services and improve financial protection. “This is the only one of the three targets that we estimate will be met, with 1.5 billion people expected to be enjoying better health and well-being by 2025,” Tedros stated.

Climate Change: A Major Health Threat
“Perhaps the greatest threat to health of our time comes from our changing climate,” Tedros warned. For the first time, an entire day at the COP28 climate conference in the UAE was dedicated to health. A total of 149 countries signed the COP28 declaration on climate change and health, with donors pledging over $1 billion to address health impacts of climate change. The final agreement included a commitment to transition away from fossil fuels.

The WHO also supported the electrification of health facilities with solar energy in Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zambia, Pakistan, and Yemen. Tedros highlighted a decline in tobacco use in 150 countries, noting 19 million fewer smokers globally compared to two years ago. Over 90 countries increased their tobacco excise tax between 2020 and 2022.

“In December, WHO published a call to action to prevent the uptake of e-cigarettes, along with a technical note on the evidence of the harm they do,” Tedros added.

Support in Conflict Zones
In conflict areas, the WHO deployed 18 medical teams to Gaza, providing nearly 400,000 consultations, performing over 18,000 surgeries, and adding more than 500 hospital beds. “WHO was in Gaza before the conflict began and will stay to support the health system until this conflict ends, and to help rebuild it afterwards,” Tedros affirmed.

In Sudan, more than a year of fighting has left almost 15 million people in need of health assistance, with three-quarters of hospitals and nearly 90% of primary care facilities non-functional. In Ukraine, the WHO continues to support the resilient health system, anticipating that 7.8 million people will require health assistance in 2024.–News Desk