In strategic dialogues, the United States and WHO seek to maximize their longstanding partnership

28 Sep

Washington – WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra agreed Tuesday to develop a work plan in 2023 to tackle shared priorities, chief among them the world’s health security and pandemic preparedness.

“As always, good to see Dr Tedros and discuss how we can promote the health of all people across the globe,” Secretary Becerra tweeted after the meeting.

The strategic dialogue focused on universal health coverage, primary health care, equity, and the global health workforce.

While in Washington, Dr Tedros also met with US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr Ashish K. Jha, US Rep. Barbara Lee, US Sen. Bob Menendez, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon and USAID Administrator Samantha Power.

Dr Tedros said he was grateful to Secretary Becerra for the “very productive strategic dialogue on how to strengthen WHO and reinforce global health security, including via a pandemic accord, investment in health-systems strengthening and prioritizing primary health care across the world.

Dr Tedros and the Surgeon General discussed ways that the United States and WHO could collaborate on mental health and touched upon the impact of loneliness on people’s health.

WHO and the United States released a joint statement following the meetings.

For many years, the United States has been one of WHO’s largest donors. It was the third largest in 2020-21, investing about US$ 700 million. In December 2021, the United States announced a US$ 280 million contribution to support critical work to help end the COVID-19 pandemic, strengthen public health systems and provide urgent relief.

The United States is a longtime supporter of WHO’s fight against polio, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, while helping advance global health priorities such as primary care for women and children, food and drug safety, and global health security.

The United States maintains a strong presence in WHO collaborating centres, lending its expertise across areas such as  addressing cancer, occupational health, communicable diseases, nutrition, mental health, chronic diseases and improving health technologies. 

The next strategic dialogues between the United States and WHO are tentatively planned for late 2023.

 

Note to readers:

This news piece was edited on 29 September 2022 to improve clarity. 

 

Joint statement of the United States of America and the World Health Organization on the U.S.-WHO strategic dialogue

27 Sep

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus held the first U.S.-WHO Strategic Dialogue. Convened under the Biden-Harris Administration, the U.S.-WHO Strategic Dialogue provides a platform to maximize the longstanding U.S. government-WHO partnership, and to protect and promote the health of all people around the globe, including the American people.

Representatives from across the United States Government and WHO leadership discussed several priority global public health issues and areas of collaboration and partnership, including ongoing WHO strengthening efforts. The U.S. and WHO welcomed the creation of the historic new financial intermediary fund for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, and called on countries to help ensure it is sustainably financed and supported.

As the world looks to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that we must be better prepared going forward, something highlighted by recent outbreaks of monkeypox, ebola, and polio. The global health architecture comprises important entities, policies, and legal tools that assist countries to improve national, regional, and global health. An essential aspect of this architecture is the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to pandemics and other health security threats. Secretary Becerra and Director-General Tedros agreed that national and global capacities must be strong, agile, ever improving, and always fit-for-purpose. They discussed efforts underway to improve the global health architecture, to support resilient health systems, and to advance health equity. 

The discussion also addressed efforts to develop a new pandemic instrument, strengthening the International Health Regulations (IHR), including through targeted amendments, as well as scaling-up of Universal Health Preparedness Review, including the Joint External Evaluation and other relevant tools, and updating global, regional, and national epidemic and One Health surveillance capabilities. It is also vital to take forward opportunities for advancing health security and primary health care, including by leveraging the extensive global health data infrastructure supported by a number of U.S. Government programs. In promoting rapid and transparent data sharing, and coordination, strengthened IHRs, and a new pandemic instrument can provide important tools to WHO Member States, including the United States, to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to new events with pandemic potential and monitor disease control measures. This reinforcing of global health security is essential to protect the health of the world and the American people.

In addition to strengthening health emergency preparedness and response, the United States and WHO recommitted to strengthening our partnership in key areas for the world to reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, progress towards is a quarter of the pace needed. Accelerated progress will require resilient health systems capable of handling future health emergencies, reorienting towards integrated primary health care as a means to achieve universal health coverage, investing in comprehensive health and care workforce development and community engagement, and promoting policies that recognize the links between the environment and health to improve quality of life. Accelerating progress towards the SDGs also requires leveraging progress made in addressing HIV, TB, polio, and malaria, advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, and empowering marginalized and vulnerable communities in global health.  Furthermore, U.S. and WHO leadership also discussed progress made on budgetary and governance reform as well as WHO’s work to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment. 

Recognizing there is much more to do together to improve and promote global public health, the United States and the WHO decided to task technical experts with further development of their collaboration in 2023, including a joint work plan with a focus on activities in support of these shared leadership objectives.  Secretary Becerra and Director-General Tedros will continue their positive engagement and guide the work of the technical teams with an expected update and reassessment by the next U.S.-WHO Strategic Dialogue to be held in late 2023.

WHO and ILO call for new measures to tackle mental health issues at work

27 Sep

New global WHO guidelines on mental health at work are reinforced by practical strategies outlined in a joint WHO/ILO policy brief.

WHO and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have called for concrete actions to address mental health concerns in the working population.

An estimated 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to depression and anxiety costing the global economy nearly US$ 1 trillion. Two new publications which aim to address this issue are published today - WHO Guidelines on mental health at work and a derivative WHO/ILO policy brief.

WHO’s global guidelines on mental health at work recommend actions to tackle risks to mental health such as heavy workloads, negative behaviours, and other factors that create distress at work. For the first time WHO recommends manager training, to build their capacity to prevent stressful work environments and respond to workers in distress.

WHO’s World Mental Health Report, published in June 2022, showed that of one billion people living with a mental disorder in 2019, 15% of working-age adults experienced a mental disorder. Work amplifies wider societal issues that negatively affect mental health, including discrimination and inequality. Bullying and psychological violence (also known as “mobbing”) is a key complaint of workplace harassment that has a negative impact on mental health. Yet discussing or disclosing mental health remains a taboo in work settings globally.

The guidelines also recommend better ways to accommodate the needs of workers with mental health conditions, propose interventions that support their return to work and, for those with severe mental health conditions, provide interventions that facilitate entry into paid employment. Importantly, the guidelines call for interventions aimed at the protection of health, humanitarian, and emergency workers.

“It’s time to focus on the detrimental effect work can have on our mental health,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “The well-being of the individual is reason enough to act, but poor mental health can also have a debilitating impact on a person’s performance and productivity. These new guidelines can help prevent negative work situations and cultures and offer much-needed mental health protection and support for working people.”

A separate WHO/ILO policy brief explains the WHO guidelines in terms of practical strategies for governments, employers and workers, and their organizations, in the public and private sectors. The aim is to support the prevention of mental health risks, protect and promote mental health at work, and support those with mental health conditions, so they can participate and thrive in the world of work. Investment and leadership will be critical to the implementation of the strategies.

“As people spend a large proportion of their lives in work – a safe and healthy working environment is critical. We need to invest to build a culture of prevention around mental health at work, reshape the work environment to stop stigma and social exclusion, and ensure employees with mental health conditions feel protected and supported,” said, Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General.

The ILO Occupational Safety and Health Convention (No. 155) and Recommendation (No. 164) provides legal frameworks to protect the health and safety of workers. However, the WHO Mental Health Atlas found that only 35% of countries reported having national programmes for work-related mental health promotion and prevention.

COVID-19 triggered a 25% increase in general anxiety and depression worldwide, exposing how unprepared governments were for its impact on mental health, and revealing a chronic global shortage of mental health resources. In 2020, governments worldwide spent an average of just 2% of health budgets on mental health, with lower-middle income countries investing less than 1%.

 

New recommendations for the composition of influenza vaccines in 2023 for the southern hemisphere

23 Sep

The World Health Organization has announced the recommended viral composition of influenza vaccines for the 2023 southern hemisphere influenza season.  

The recommendations issued today will be used by national vaccine regulatory agencies and pharmaceutical companies to develop, produce, and license influenza vaccines for the following influenza season. The periodic update of viruses contained in influenza vaccines is necessary for the vaccines to be effective due to the constantly evolving nature of influenza viruses. 

The recommendation is based on the advice of a group of experts from WHO Collaborating Centres and WHO Essential Regulatory Laboratories that analyze virus surveillance data generated by the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (or GISRS).

Around a billion people get seasonal influenza every year and the threat of an influenza pandemic is ever-present. For this reason, the need to monitor circulating respiratory viruses, including influenza, continues to be critical. This monitoring informs the  vaccine composition recommendations that WHO issues twice a year.

The year-round surveillance is conducted by GISRS, a global network of over 150 laboratories in 127 countries, areas or territories set up in 1952.  This year we celebrate its 70th anniversary.

Going forward, GISRS will continue to use its unique position as a global respiratory surveillance network to add value to other respiratory virus threats, including COVID-19, where it has already played a significant role. It will also make use of emerging technologies, for example by expanding genomic surveillance, to continue to protect people from the threat of influenza.

Recommendations

WHO recommends that quadrivalent vaccines for use in the 2023 southern hemisphere influenza season contain the following: 

Egg-based vaccines

  • an A/Sydney/5/2021 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
  • an A/Darwin/9/2021 (H3N2)-like virus;
  • a B/Austria/1359417/2021 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus; and
  • a B/Phuket/3073/2013 (B/Yamagata lineage)-like virus.

Cell culture- or recombinant-based vaccines

  • an A/Sydney/5/2021 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
  • an A/Darwin/6/2021 (H3N2)-like virus;
  • a B/Austria/1359417/2021 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus; and
  • a B/Phuket/3073/2013 (B/Yamagata lineage)-like virus.

WHO recommends that trivalent vaccines for use in the 2023 southern hemisphere influenza season contain the following:  

Egg-based vaccines

  • an A/Sydney/5/2021 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
  • an A/Darwin/9/2021 (H3N2)-like virus; and
  • a B/Austria/1359417/2021 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus.

Cell culture- or recombinant-based vaccines

  • an A/Sydney/5/2021 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
  • an A/Darwin/6/2021 (H3N2)-like virus; and
  • a B/Austria/1359417/2021 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus

 

Heads of State commit to Noncommunicable Disease Global Compact to save 50 million lives by 2030

21 Sep
  • Michael R. Bloomberg reappointed as WHO Global Ambassador of Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries
  • New Gallup survey indicates strong global support for policies outlined in WHO report to combat growing public health burden of noncommunicable diseases

Today, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, launched a new report calling on global leaders to take urgent action on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), responsible for 17 million premature deaths every year.

To accelerate action Dr Tedros renewed the two-year appointment of Michael R. Bloomberg as WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries. This is Bloomberg’s third reappointment as Ambassador, having first been appointed to the role in 2016.

The announcement came at the first annual gathering of a Heads of State and Government Group for the Prevention of NCDs, led by the President of Ghana and the Prime Minister of Norway [1],  held during the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This follows the launch of a Global NCD Compact earlier this year by Ghana and Norway.

To mark the occasion, WHO released a new report, “Invisible Numbers: The true scale of noncommunicable diseases,” and a data portal that for the first time, brings together all WHO data related to NCDs for 194 countries. The report and portal highlight the extent of global NCD burden, risk factors, and the progress each country is making in their efforts to combat these diseases and conditions. Every two seconds, someone under 70 somewhere in the world dies of an NCD. Noncommunicable diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and lung disease now outnumber infectious disease as the top killers globally.

“This report is a reminder of the true scale of the threat posed by NCDs and their risk factors,” said Dr Tedros. “There are cost-effective and globally applicable NCD interventions that every country, no matter its income level, can and should be using and benefitting from – saving lives and saving money. I thank President Afuko-Addo, Prime Minister Støre and Michael Bloomberg for their leadership and vision in addressing this major global health issue.”

Bloomberg’s reappointment comes at a critical juncture for public health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people living with NCDs faced worse outcomes than those without. Today, Gallup released a new survey commissioned by WHO and Bloomberg Philanthropies that found most respondents in five surveyed countries – including Colombia, India, Jordan, the United Republic of Tanzania  and the United States of America rank an NCD or NCD risk factor as the biggest health problem in their country. 

The public’s awareness of the links between NCDs and their risk factors such, as tobacco and alcohol consumption, unhealthy diets, and lack of physical activity, is low. Yet, the majority of people surveyed across all countries support a wide number of proven interventions and policies that can reduce deaths from NCDs, such as incorporating more green spaces in urban health design and increasing taxes on tobacco.

“As we continue to respond to this pandemic and prepare for the next, we have seen the critical importance of addressing a major risk factor in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths – noncommunicable diseases,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries. “Noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, and cancer are the world’s biggest silent killers – but they can often be prevented with investment in proven, cost-effective interventions. I look forward to continuing to make life-saving investments in NCD and injury prevention alongside Dr Tedros and the WHO.”

As WHO Global Ambassador, Bloomberg will continue to support global, national, and local efforts to protect people from NCDs and injuries. This work also advances the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 3.4) target to reduce the global number of NCD deaths by one-third through high-impact, population-level policies and programmes implemented in cities across the world.

NCDs cause nearly three-quarters of deaths worldwide. Every year, 17 million people under the age of 70 die of NCDs, 86 percent of whom live in low- and middle-income countries. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the NCD burden by delaying and disrupting care, and in the early months of the pandemic, 75 percent of countries reported disruption to essential NCD services because of lockdown restrictions and channelling of resources. While every Member State of the United Nations has committed to reducing premature death from NCDs by one-third by 2030 – an effort that could save millions of lives – few countries are currently on track to achieve it. Urgent global efforts are needed to get back on track to reach Sustainable Development Goal targets and reduce premature deaths from NCDs.

[1] The Heads of State and Government Group launched a Global Compact on NCDs in April 2022 in Accra, Ghana at the International Strategic Dialogue on NCDs.


About the World Health Organization

The World Health Organization provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, WHO works with 194 Member States, across six regions and from more than 150 offices, to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable. By connecting countries, people and partners, we strive to give everyone, everywhere an equal chance at a safe and healthy life. 

About Michael Bloomberg’s work in public health

An international leader on public health issues, Bloomberg’s investments in public health include major, life-saving initiatives to reduce tobacco and youth e-cigarette use through over $1 billion in investments, support healthy food policy, reduce drowning, and improve road safety and maternal health, among others. In 2016, he launched the American Health Initiative at Johns Hopkins University to tackle declining life expectancy in the United States, and in 2017, started the Partnership for Healthy Cities, a global network of 70 cities committed to reducing noncommunicable diseases and injuries. Recently, Bloomberg Philanthropies invested an additional $115 million in global public health nonprofit Resolve to Save Lives – bringing its total investment to $215 million – to continue preventing deaths from heart disease.

About Bloomberg Philanthropies

Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in 941 cities and 173 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health.

Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation, corporate, and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2021, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $1.66 billion. For more information, please visit bloomberg.org

 

 


WHO’s Director-General and Minister-President of Wallonia, Belgium, sign framework agreement on the sides of the UNGA

21 Sep

On the 21st of September, on the sides of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, a new framework agreement was signed between the Wallon Government, Belgium and the World Health Organization. 

Minister-President of Wallonia, Belgium, Mr Elio Di Rupo met with Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General to further expand the strategic partnership between Wallonia and WHO. The Framework Agreement will, amongst others, facilitate financial contributions to the work of WHO, with a focus on the technical cooperation around health heeds in the priority countries in Africa which are at the center of the efforts of the development cooperation of the Wallon Government.

With the new agreement, it is expected that joint cooperation around areas of mutual interest, which include immunization, research and policy initiatives, could start as soon as possible.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: ”WHO is very grateful to have the technical and financial support of Wallonia and we look forward to our collaboration, working together to put in place programmes and policies which can improve the health and lives of people who need it the most”. 

Mr Elio Di Rupo said: “The signing of this Framework Agreement is a first step in the new cooperation between Wallonia and WHO. Discussions between the two parties will continue in the coming months in order to implement the objectives set out in this agreement through joint action programmes.”

The agreement focuses on particular areas where the added value of the partnership will make the most impact. To this end, joint action programmes will be developed to support the implementation of public health programs and activities aimed at strengthening the health systems in Africa. For these programmes, it is envisaged to work on vaccine equity and research, as well as the establishment of a health policy in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Other key focus areas include support to the Universal Health Coverage Partnership.

 

WHO Director-General’s statement on Pakistan – 17 September 2022

17 Sep

I am deeply concerned about the potential for a second disaster in Pakistan: a wave of disease and death following this catastrophe, linked to climate change, that has severely impacted vital health systems leaving millions vulnerable. The water supply is disrupted, forcing people to drink unsafe water, which can spread cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases. Standing water enables mosquitoes to breed and spread vector- borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. Health centres have been flooded, their supplies damaged, and people have moved away from home which makes it harder for them to access their normal health services. All this means more unsafe births, more untreated diabetes or heart disease, and more children missing vaccination, to name but a few of the impacts on health.  

But if we act quickly to protect health and deliver essential health services, we can significantly reduce the impact of this impending crisis. Health workers in Pakistan are stretched to the limit as they do all they can to deliver critical services amid the destruction. Nearly 2000 health facilities have been fully or partially damaged. Together with the government of Pakistan, UN and NGO partners, WHO is setting up temporary health facilities and medical camps and helping to re-supply medicines to other health centres. We are increasing disease surveillance so outbreaks can be detected early and people can get the treatment they need. 

Government and partners are providing safe drinking water and access to toilets to lower the risks of disease from dirty water. WHO has provided water purification kits and oral rehydration salts to manage diarrhoeal diseases.  Partners are also helping ensure safer housing and bed nets to protect against mosquitoes and the diseases they carry. 

WHO immediately released US$10 million from the WHO Contingency Fund for Emergencies which enabled us to deliver essential medicines and other supplies.

I thank the donors for their prompt response to the flash appeal.  We continue to assess the scale of the crisis and will issue a revised appeal shortly. I urge donors to continue to respond generously so that, together, we can save lives and prevent more suffering.

 

 


WHO calls for urgent action by countries for achieving Medication Without Harm

16 Sep

Globally, half of all preventable harm in medical care is medication related, a quarter of which is severe or life-threatening. In the lead up to World Patient Safety Day on 17 September 2022, WHO is emphasizing the global burden of medication harm. The elderly population is one of the most at-risk groups of medication harm, especially those taking multiple medications. High rates of medication-related harm are also seen in surgical care, intensive care and emergency medicine.

“Medicines are powerful tools for protecting health. But medicines that are wrongly prescribed, taken incorrectly or are of poor quality, can cause serious harm,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Nobody should be harmed while seeking care.”

Unsafe medication practices and medication errors are one of the main causes of injury and avoidable harm in health-care systems across the world. The global cost associated with medication errors has been estimated at US$42 billion annually. Medication errors happen due to systemic issues and/or human factors such as fatigue, poor environmental conditions or staff shortages which affect prescribing, transcribing, dispensing, administration and monitoring practices. These errors can result in severe harm, disability and even death.

World Patient Safety Day aims to increase understanding among and engagement of the public and encourage countries to promote safety in health care. This year has a particular focus on medication safety with the slogan ‘Medication Without Harm’. The campaign will also see the consolidation of the ongoing WHO Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication Without Harm, with the aim of reducing avoidable medication-related harm globally.

WHO is advocating for urgent improvement in strategies to reduce medication-related harm in key risk areas. Furthermore, it is working with partners to develop a set of medication safety technical resources, including a policy brief and medication safety solutions such as medication safety for look-alike sound-alike (LASA) medicines. LASA medicines may look or sound similar to each other, either by their generic name, or brand name. They might have similar packaging, similar-sounding names, or similar spellings.

Flaws in the systems for prescription are a big contributor to medication-related harm, alongside human error. Evidence has shown that more than half of all medication harm occurs at the stage when medicines are prescribed and when they are being taken by patients due to inadequate monitoring. The highest risk category for medication-related harm is antibiotics, but medicines such as sedatives, anti-inflammatories and heart and blood pressure medication also pose significant risks.

WHO is calling on stakeholders to continue efforts to reduce medication-related harm, develop strategies and structures to improve medication safety at local, national, regional and global levels, and make a pledge to adopt the Medication Without Harm Challenge. 

 

Note to editors

World Patient Safety Day was established by the World Health Assembly (resolution WHA72.6) in 2019, with the aim of increasing public awareness and engagement, enhancing global understanding, and working towards global solidarity and action by countries and partners to promote safety in health care. Each year a theme is selected to shed light on a priority area critical to patient safety. World Patient Safety Day 2022 has been dedicated to Medication Safety.

WHO responds to The Lancet COVID-19 Commission

14 Sep

WHO welcomes the overarching recommendations of The Lancet COVID-19 Commission’s report on “Lessons for the future from the COVID-19 pandemic,” which align with our commitment to stronger global, regional and national pandemic preparedness, prevention, readiness and response. At the same time, there are several key omissions and misinterpretations in the report, not least regarding the public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) and the speed and scope of WHO’s actions.   

WHO welcomes the Commission’s endorsement of a pandemic agreement, strengthening the International Health Regulations (IHR), and enhancing financing. These issues are core to the vision of WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as distilled in the five priorities for his second term. WHO and its Member States are already enacting these recommendations. The World Health Assembly agreed a historic decision in May 2022 to sustainably finance WHO.This year will see two rounds of public hearings for a pandemic accord take place.

The Commission strongly endorses WHO’s central role in global health, arguing that “WHO should be strengthened” and that reforms “should include a substantial increase of its core budget.”

WHO echoes the Commission’s conclusions that COVID-19 exposed major global challenges, such as chronic under financing of the UN, rigid intellectual property regimes, a lack of sustainable financing for low- and middle-income countries, and “excessive nationalism,” which drove vaccine inequity.

The Organization also agrees with the focus on biosafety, as shown by the formalization of our Technical Advisory Group on biosafety, the publication of our Laboratory biosafety manual – now in its 4th edition – and the publication on 13 September this year of a life sciences framework to help mitigate bio risks and safely govern dual-use research.

WHO places similar emphasis on the importance of multilateralism, solidarity and cooperation when facing pandemics. We also welcome the recognition of the key role that countries themselves play.  

Many of the Commission’s recommendations align with those received over the past two years from review bodies set up by WHO itself, such as the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR), the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme (IOAC) and the IHR Review Committee, as well as assessments from other entities. As we are a learning organization, we established a dashboard of recommendations from these initiatives and others to track their implementation by WHO and others.

WHO’s rapid response

The Commission does not, however, convey the full arc of WHO’s immediate, multi-year, life-saving response, detailed below:  

  • On 30 December 2019, WHO received the first alerts of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China, and notified the IHR focal point, seeking further information from Chinese health authorities the next day.
  • On 1 January 2020, WHO activated its Incident Management System to manage daily action. The team, which includes focal points on clinical care, infection prevention and control, diagnostics, logistics, communications and more, met daily throughout 2020, into 2021 and continues to meet this year.  
  • On 5 January 2020, WHO issued a global alert to all Member States through a formal IHR system – the Event Information System – based on our initial risk assessment of the situation in China. This alerted Member States and advised them to take measures to identify cases, care for patients, and prevent infection and onward human-to-human transmission for acute respiratory pathogens with epidemic and pandemic potential. This was WHO’s first global warning to take concrete measures for an unknown respiratory disease. WHO has consistently driven knowledge-sharing through dedicated briefings for countries, during which the critical experiences of early-affected countries were shared and the elements of WHO’s comprehensive response were outlined.
  • On 9 January 2020, WHO convened the first of many teleconferences with established global expert networks, to discuss all available information on the cluster reported from China. These networks enabled the real-time exchange of direct knowledge, experience and early study findings, which fed directly into WHO’s early advice and recommendations.
  • Between 10 and 12 January 2020, WHO published a comprehensive package of technical guidance for countries. This package covered how to test for a high threat respiratory coronavirus, treat patients for severe acute respiratory infection, inform the public to prevent infection and human- to-human transmission, and to prepare health systems to deal with more cases.
  • On 13 January 2020, WHO published the first protocol to develop PCR tests to identify cases based on the release of the full genome sequence two days earlier. By 2 February 2020, WHO began shipping validated PCR assays to countries around the world.
  • On 22 and 23 January 2020, when there were nine cases and no deaths reported outside China, the Director-General convened the Emergency Committee (EC) under the IHR to meet, and advise whether the event constituted a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). The Committee advised that it did not. The Director-General said publicly: “Make no mistake. This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one”.
  • From 27 to 28 January, following the EC, the Director-General and senior staff travelled to China to meet with top government officials, gather information about the outbreak and seek cooperation.
  • On 30 January 2020, when there were 98 reported cases (and no deaths) in 18 countries outside China, the Director-General reconvened the Emergency Committee. It advised that the outbreak constituted a PHEIC. The DG took their advice and declared a PHEIC, issuing temporary recommendations for how countries could further prepare and respond.
  • On 4 February 2020, WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) was published. It outlined comprehensive measures all countries needed to take to suppress transmission and save lives, using a package of interventions including early identification and isolation and care of cases, contact tracing and supported quarantine, use of medical masks, distancing, ventilation, infection prevention and control in health facilities, taking a risk-based approach to small and large gatherings, and for travel.
  • Following regular media briefings held in January, daily briefings began on 5 February 2020. Media briefings continue on a weekly basis, alongside regular live social media conversations with senior WHO experts, demonstrating the priority placed on communicating with leaders and the public.
  • From 11 to 12 February 2020, WHO led a Global Research and Innovation Forum on the new virus, convening nearly 900 experts and funders from more than 40 countries, to take stock of what was known about the novel coronavirus and to set the agenda going forward. A follow-up achievement was WHO’s Solidarity trial, which became one of the largest clinical trials for COVID-19 therapeutics, involving more than 30 countries, over 14 000 patients and nearly 500 hospitals at its peak.

 

A comprehensive and detailed list of actions taken by WHO during the COVID-19 response can be viewed in our interactive timeline.

From day one and to this day, WHO, together with our global expert networks and guideline development groups, regularly updates our guidance and strategies with the latest knowledge about the virus, including updates to the SPRP and the COVID-19 global vaccination strategy, and to the 11th version of WHO’s living guideline on COVID-19 therapeutics, which was published in July 2022.

WHO played, and continues to play, a vital role in getting COVID-19 tools to countries in need, not least through joint endeavours such as the ACT-Accelerator, Pandemic Supply Chain Network (PSCN) and UN COVID-19 Supply Chain Task Force. Lab testing capability in African nations rose dramatically over six months, thanks to support from WHO. Only two countries on the African continent had COVID-19 testing capacities at the start of 2020; by mid-year, all 54 countries had them. WHO has supported 18 countries globally to set up plants for medical oxygen.

Throughout the pandemic, the Director-General has repeatedly called for leaders to take actions to protect people and share tools equitably when addressing the world’s most important fora, such as the February Munich Security Conference; the extraordinary G20 Leaders Summit of March 2020; the G7 Summit of June 2021, where the 70% vaccination target was announced; and Global COVID-19 Summits co-hosted by the Biden Administration in September 2021 and May 2022.

Regarding the areas of WHO’s response focused on by the Commission, WHO would like also to highlight the many day-to-day steps, including the following:   

  • WHO repeatedly warned of the potential of asymptomatic human-to-human transmission, particularly pre-symptomatic transmission, including in late January in updated surveillance guidance, in protocols for enhanced surveillance on 29 January (defining a contact as someone with exposure 1 day before symptom onset of a case) and 4 February (changing a contact to someone with exposure up to 4 days before symptom onset of a case), at its Executive Board on 4 February, in guidance documents from 23 and 28 February 2020, in its China mission report and media briefings. WHO issued guidance and enhanced surveillance protocols early in the pandemic to identify contacts among people prior to the development of symptoms.
  • The IHR recognize the sovereign rights of State Parties to introduce restrictions on travel. From the very beginning of the COVID-19 response, WHO recommended many measures countries should take, including screening at entry points.
  • At the beginning of the pandemic, dramatic global supply constraints saw health workers around the world scrambling to find basic supplies to protect themselves. WHO’s early priority was getting access to masks for those most at-risk around the world; we initially recommended the use of medical masks for anyone with symptoms, anyone caring for someone sick, and frontline health workers. Our logisticians and other UN partners were central in activating the pandemic supply chain and increasing global supplies.
  • WHO guidance published on 10 January 2020, outlined respiratory precautions – including airborne precautions – in health-care settings. WHO guidance addressing many forms of transmission including zoonotic, droplet, airborne, short- and long-range aerosol, fomite, and vertical transmission, along with specific recommendations to prevent such transmission in different settings (such as health facilities, schools, workplaces), was updated and expanded regularly throughout the pandemic based on emerging evidence. WHO is leading and coordinating a multi-agency, multidisciplinary, international technical consultation process to discuss and reach a consensus on pathogens that transmit through the air, with a wide range of global experts and international and national agencies. 

 

Looking ahead

The pandemic is not over, though the end is in sight, and WHO continues its response, while laying a stronger foundation for the future:

  • Daily meetings of experts continue in order to update and streamline strategies and guidance. WHO-supported research continues. Helping countries access vaccines continues. Setting up oxygen plants continues.
  • At the World Health Assembly in May 2022, the Director-General presented WHO's proposals, developed in consultation with Member States and other stakeholders – taking into consideration the over 300 recommendations from review bodies and panels – to strengthen the architecture for Health Emergency Preparedness, Response and Resilience.
  • In early September 2022, the financial intermediary fund for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response was officially launched. This will provide long-term financing to strengthen these capabilities in low- and middle-income countries and address critical gaps.
  • Through the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body to draft and negotiate a WHO international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response, WHO is hosting public hearings, the first since those that fed into the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (which entered into force in 2005).
  • WHO continues to actively pursue the search for the origins of SARS-CoV-2, with July 2021 marking the establishment of a permanent international Scientific Advisory Group for Origins of Novel Pathogens, or SAGO, which covers both SARS-CoV-2 and future new pathogens.

 

 

 

World Health Summit 2022: Press accreditation now open

14 Sep

The World Health Summit and WHO jointly invite to the world’s leading global health conference. This year's Summit will take place from 16-18 October 2022 in Berlin, Germany, and will bring together the most prominent names in global health from all sectors in all regions of the world: heads of state and government ministers, scientists, and representatives from the private sector as well as civil society.

Patrons are German Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

WHS 2022 aims to set the course for a healthier, more equitable future. Central topics include climate change and health, pandemic preparedness, digital transformation, and sustainable health systems.

See more information about the programme and the confirmed speakers.

The World Health Summit is open to the press, but places for journalists on-site are limited. Digital participation requires no accreditation, links will be available shortly before WHS 2022 at www.worldhealthsummit.org

Journalists can apply for on-site participation until Wednesday, 12 October 2022 here.

For media inquiries, follow https://www.worldhealthsummit.org/whs-2022/media-center.html

More information available here.